Rolf’s story

After my ostomy surgery,
I wished that I had died…

At 24 years old I was on top of the world…playing football in the NFL…in my hometown, as the placekicker for the San Diego Chargers. I enjoyed some success as a rookie and our team was now a preseason pick to make it to the playoffs. Things were great until two games into my second season when I started experiencing the difficult symptoms of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD); pain, nausea, fever, bad diarrhea and abdominal cramps, which became so painful it was hard to button my jeans, workout, run or kick. But the team was winning! And while the rest of my teammates were celebrating in the locker room after a victory, I was sitting in front of my locker, doubled over in pain with tears running down my cheeks. It felt like someone was twisting a sharp knife in my abdomen. Not willing to quit, I just kept playing, trying to get through each game. There were many nights during the long weeks of that season that I would just curl up in a fetal position on my bed after trying to eat dinner and cry myself to sleep. I simply could not see a happy end to this story.

The end finally came four games into my third season when I collapsed on the team plane flying home from a game against the New England Patriots. I was so weak and so sick, that when they landed the plane, I was immediately taken to the hospital where my dad was a physician to undergo two major abdominal surgeries within six days. Following that second surgery, I woke up with two ostomy bags on my side, weighing 123 pounds and the doctors telling my parents they weren’t sure I would survive the night. My internal sutures had perforated, and I became septic. After nearly six weeks in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) fighting for my life and another two weeks in the hospital I was finally released to go home to the care of my parents. I was alive but honestly, I wished I had died because I couldn’t imagine doing any of the things I loved to do while wearing a bag. Amazingly, with the support of my family, friends, teammates and coaches who wouldn’t give up on me, I recovered and was able to return to the NFL to play seven more seasons!!

I learned a lot about myself, what was important in life, and despite all the pain and suffering I had gone through, would not change any of it because of how it changed me! I know that sounds crazy to say…but it is true! My ostomy journey and the platform of the NFL has allowed me…for the past forty years…to connect with ostomy patients from around the world and help demystify the surgery, provide support, education, and hope, and then get the blessing of seeing them get on with their lives and flourish!! Along the way I have made lifelong friends with surgeons, WOC nurses, families and patients and been amazed at the resiliency of the human spirit! What a gift my ostomy has been — even if at the time I had no idea how it would change my life.

With over 100,000 ostomy surgeries being performed in the U.S. each year it has burdened me tremendously that I cannot speak to every single person facing this challenging life transition to offer them hope and encouragement. And that’s why Embracing Ostomy Life was created — with one goal — to ensure that no one travels their ostomy journey alone.

We’ve collected resources from the most respected organizations in the industry including the American College of Surgeons, Association of Colon and Rectal Surgeons, United Ostomy Associations of America, and the Wound, Ostomy and Continence Nurses Society along with contributions from an incredible team of dedicated nurses, surgeons, dietitians and most importantly — patients!! Through Alive & Kicking, our ostomy surgery recovery program, and Team HOPE, our service which connects new ostomates with “veterans” who can listen, empathize, and walk alongside them every step of the way we are confident that everyone can learn to embrace their new ostomy life…and flourish!

Rolf Benirschke