Bears' Zach Miller on leg injury: This ain't the end of my life
Injured Chicago Bears tight end Zach Miller is a long way from returning to football, but he's even further away from feeling sorry for himself.
"This ain't the end of my life," he said. "There's a ton of things that I'll still be able to do, and I'm going to be completely fine after we get through this."
After eight surgeries on his damaged left leg that doctors initially feared might have to be amputated, Miller just began bending it last week. His knee was dislocated so badly that it caused artery damage that required immediate surgery to save the leg.
"We were a couple minutes away from having that be real," Miller said. "Thankfully, we were able to avoid it, and we didn't really get into where I had (tissue) that was starting to die off. We were able to save pretty much everything.
"Before I got into the emergency surgery, the last thing I was telling the doctors was 'please save my leg.' Because I knew that something wasn't quite right just in the way my leg was feeling and the way it was swelling up. I started to panic a little bit."
Miller also suffered ligament damage while catching what appeared to be a touchdown pass in New Orleans during the Bears' 20-12 loss to the Saints on Oct. 29. He also might require additional surgeries, but he felt well enough Monday to speak to the media at Halas Hall.
He smiled the same smile that is as much a part of his appearance as a jersey or a helmet, even though he paused occasionally to deal with emotions.
"As far as the artery and everything else, it's good," Miller said. "Vascular-wise, the artery's as strong if not stronger than it ever was. The risk of reinjuring that is the (same) risk that I had of doing it in the first place."
The 33-year-old veteran is on crutches and wears a heavy brace, and for now he isn't as concerned with timetables.
"I'll probably just take all of that and the rehab as it comes," he said. "I haven't asked many questions as far as down-the-road-type things. I just kind of take this day by day."
Miller had his first three surgeries in New Orleans before he was able to take a Medi-Vac flight to Chicago. When he landed, he was surprised to be greeted by his three young children. He and his wife, Kristen, have a girl and two boys.
"They were excited but wondering what the (heck) was going on with me, trying to peek in through the airplane windows," the eight-year veteran said. "I just remember hugging them and holding them for the first time."
As difficult as his ordeal has been physically, emotionally and mentally, Miller said there's also a spiritual benefit.
"I learned there are still really good people in this world," he said. "There's a whole bunch of negative stuff 24/7, (but) I've been impacted by love across the entire globe."
Miller said he appreciates the support he has received from the Bears' organization, but smiled as he declined to go into detail.
"I don't even know where to start," he said. "That's from the top down. Everybody's been there. And it's much appreciated. That's all I'm going to say, because I ain't gonna cry up here."
Bears chairman George McCaskey gave Miller the ball from his catch while he was hospitalized in New Orleans.
"That guy's been awesome," Miller said, "and that'll be a memory I'll keep forever."
The ball also is something Miller will keep for a long time, and it will serve as a reminder.
"That's a pivotal part of my life," he said. "I'm not sure what it's going to mean or remind me of right now, but I'm pretty positive and confident that when I grind through this, it will remind me of all that, what I went through and where I'm at."
The end isn't in sight on Miller's road to recovery, but he has hit some minor milestones.
"Early on, it was bad," he said. "It was hard for me to get from the bed to the bathroom. I'd get tired. But that's because I was laid up for 4-5 weeks. Now that I'm able to move, I'm getting stronger every day.
"I'm starting to bend my leg more and more. So it's getting easier every single day. I imagine once I keep progressing, lose the brace, maybe lose the crutches, I'll be a little happier."
Few players know the rehab routine better than Miller, whose 2016 season ended six games early with a broken foot. He missed three consecutive seasons (2012-14) with a variety of injuries, including foot, calf, knee and shoulder but bounced back to have career years in 2015 and 2016.
He's not sure if he has another comeback in him.
"I haven't really thought much of football," he said. "Right now, it's just getting this right, getting healed up and when that point comes, I'll make a decision.
"Do I want to play football? What do you think? I've been a football player my whole life. I would love to play football. We'll cross that road when it's time."