John Fox: Optimistic about returning to Broncos sidelines before season ends

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DENVER — Eight days after undergoing heart surgery, Denver Broncos head coach John Fox talked with the media Tuesday about his recovery and the timeline for his return to the sidelines.

He seemed to be in great spirits and optimistic about recovery from open heart surgery to replace an aortic valve. He’s also optimistic about his football team and the idea that he will make it back before the season ends.

He spoke to the media via telephone from his home in Charlotte, N.C. Doctors still have not cleared him to fly to return to Denver.

The Broncos provided a transcript of John Fox’s conference call:

Opening comments
“Welcome everybody. I’m sitting here relaxing, to be real honest with you. I’m just now getting around to seeing the San Diego game from Sunday.”

On watching the Broncos-Chargers game live on Sunday
“Oh yeah, I did. It always appears a bit different on the coaches copy for sure.”

On how he is feeling
“I’m feeling good. First of all, I want to thank all of you guys for all your good wishes and good thoughts and all the fans out there [and] obviously the Broncos organization, to allow me this time to get my health back, and that process is going very well. It’s been helped by everybody there in Denver, and probably first and foremost my wife, Robin.”

On how difficult it was to watch the game from his home instead of the sidelines
“I don’t know if it was difficult. It was definitely different. I don’t think I’ve missed a game in about 195 or so [games]. It’s been a while. I’ve got to admit there were parts of it I had to quit watching, but all in all, much like a bye week, the unusual part obviously was that it was actually our team playing.”

On the parts he had to quit watching
“It got probably a little bit tense. I knew that wasn’t the best thing for me at that moment.”

On if one of the moments was QB Peyton Manning getting hit and grabbing his ankle
“Yeah, I don’t think that I want to get into specifics. I can just leave you with the thought that there were a few, and that could have been one of them (laughing).”

On how much the doctors have told him about what he can and can’t be doing
“Really, they’re kind of a ‘one day at a time’ approach. Much like when it’s a player’s injury, or this case my injury, I don’t really like putting timelines on it. I can just tell you that I’m working very hard to get better and I feel like my doctors are pleased that I’ve improved every day. So things are going great. I like where I’m at right now and we’ll see where that leaves us.”

On if the surgery is something he would have had to have done even if he wasn’t an NFL coach
“Yeah, that’s a good question. Again, sure, there is some pressure and stress involved in coaching, but I think a lot of people out there in Denver, in this country, really around the globe, that have very pressure-packed jobs. I think our military comes to mind maybe as one of those that I don’t think coaching compares to. So, it wasn’t the pressure of coaching or any kind of thing. Basically I have what they call a bicuspid aortic valve, which uses two flaps inside that valve. Most everybody is born with three flaps. It’s something I was born with. Some guys that are way more popular than me—Robin Williams, Arnold Schwarzenegger—they had similar type valves. And they don’t last your whole life. So because [of that] there is not as much surface passing through every single pump in your heart. So I knew it was something that was eventually—it was progressively getting worse a year ago. They thought it would last another year. Obviously I didn’t make it quite to that point. Then it’s not something you fool with. You don’t remember much after that incident, so it’s not something you want to mess with.”

On the recovery process
“With heart surgery, they basically hit you with a truck pretty fast. So you have to heal. They open up the chest cavity, they perform surgery on your heart, they put you all back together. They have to monitor things. The scariest part was the four days I was in the hospital. You’re in intensive care. It’s all intensive care for heart surgery. It’s not like you go from one to the next. That all went good. There is always some scary parts to it, and I’m past those. Right now it’s a matter of just doing the right thing. I’ve got good docs, I’ve got a great team in charge of me and they’re doing a terrific job. I’m feeling better every day.”

On when the problem was originally discovered
“I think actually it was something that should have probably been discovered sooner, from all the athletics I played as a youth growing up. Actually they discovered it probably a little less than 20 years ago, in 1997. It comes across as a murmur. They check out what’s causing that sloshy sound of a murmur, and with me it was the bicuspid aortic valve.”

On getting regular checkups
“I was not symptomatic, meaning they can measure this thing—much like they do a sonogram with a baby, they do to your heart. So they do a sonogram on your heart and they can actually measure the force of that valve, they can measure the width of that valve, they can measure the elasticity of that valve. So this is something I know has been monitored for at least three years here in Denver and nine prior to that in Carolina and probably—they discovered it in New York—so the five I was in New York. So this is something that they’ve been monitoring and looking at for some time. When those things start changing, it’s time to make a change to that valve.”

On whether he will return to Denver at some point in his recovery
“I think number one right now they’re just trying to make sure that I’m OK to fly. There are some certain things they’ve got to be concerned with, with altitude, those types of things. They’re just trying to make sure—I don’t know all the technicalities. As soon as I’m able to fly and they feel good about me going through the rigors of flying, then I’ll be heading back to Denver.”

On what kind of plane he’ll fly on
“It’ll be something that hopefully goes in the air and stays in the air (laughing).”

On how much he’s keeping in touch with people at Dove Valley
“I’ve got a pretty good team of people there that I stay in touch with on a daily basis. That’s obviously been helpful for me through the rehab thing too—it keeps me from getting bored to death. I feel great about the people there and that everything is in at this point. Obviously, we’ve made Jack [Del Rio] the interim coach because I know I have great confidence in him. He has great leadership on the football team. I have an outstanding staff even besides Jack. So, I feel good about the hands that all the football decisions are in.”

On if he expects to return this year
“Oh yeah, I don’t think there is any question. There’s always a question—that’s why I don’t like putting timelines—but my goal and dream is to be there obviously before the conclusion of this season.”

On getting a game ball from Denver’s win against San Diego
“Yeah, I think it’s something that did come back to me. Obviously I am very appreciative of that, my family is very appreciative of that. I think whenever you have spent time with people and built relationships, those feelings go both ways. Obviously I was very excited for them to have the opportunity to win—we came a little short last year and we’re trying to fix that this year.”

On what happened on the golf course before he was hospitalized
“You’re getting ready to go down. I don’t know if you’ve ever passed out before but you feel it overcoming you and basically you get tunnel vision and are just trying to fight it off. I hit two shots—a chip shot and a putt that I can truly tell you I don’t remember every little part of it. And then really just had to sit on the ground and actually lay on the ground. I never really passed out, but just fighting that feeling of passing out. I just hit two golf shots in the middle of it.”

On whether he’d been told the symptoms to be on alert for
“I never really had any of them. Shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, chest pain—really the only thing that happened to me was very light-headedness. Basically, coming very close to falling out [of consciousness] and didn’t. And so when they brought me to the hospital, the first thing they did was a CT scan and my valve was almost completely closed. I was receiving very little blood to my body. It’s one of those things that it could just happen quickly.”

On what lifestyle changes he plans on making
“I’m very, very healthy. I think the fact that the normal length of open heart surgery is five to seven days—I was out in four. This isn’t due to poor lifestyle, not being healthy, too much stress, not enough stress—this is basically something I was born with that I needed fixed. I think it speaks of my recovery of what great shape I’m in. This is really not a lifestyle problem, it’s just—call it a birth defect. I’m not really sure what you call it but I just came a little short in that department.”

On if he has a different appreciation for his job, players and family
“I think all of it. Usually in life you don’t realize what you have until it’s gone and I think it definitely gives you a bigger appreciation for what I do for a living and the people I’m so blessed to be around and really what I get to do for a job.”

On if they hid his cell phone after his surgery
“They didn’t have to, to be honest with you. It was one of the furthest things from my mind; I have to be honest with you, for at least that first 36 hours, I had more tubes coming in and out of me than you can even imagine.”

On if he will share his game notes with the coaches/players this week
“More so with coaches. I still text and talk to the players as well. The more coherent I become—that pain medication can make for some funny conversations if you allow it. I’m feeling much better now. I have had conversations with a lot of people in Dove Valley.”

On if he spoke with the NFL regarding the hit on Manning vs. San Diego
“We’re really not allowed to discuss that—anything to do with officiating. I can say that I did communicate with somebody at the league office.”

Final remarks
“Thanks for all the well wishes, gang. I really do appreciate it and glad I could spend time with you today.”