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Matt Millen Shares Story of Heart Transplant in E:60 Feature

by on March 04, 2019 5:12 PM

A special E:60 feature chronicling the story of Matt Millen’s battle with a rare heart condition and Christmas Eve transplant aired on ESPN Sunday morning.

E:60 shared the story of Millen’s rise into an All-American at Penn State and four-time Super Bowl champion before getting into his future as an NFL executive and TV broadcaster.

Football remained an important part of Millen’s life after his playing career came to a close. In 2001, he became president and CEO of the Detroit Lions, despite having no prior front office experience. He quickly learned that building a football team was much different than playing on one, and his short stint as CEO ended when he was fired in 2008.

A year later, Millen became a broadcaster for ESPN, where he worked before joining the Big Ten Network in 2015. He hadn’t been feeling well for quite some time, and before he knew it, his symptoms started getting progressively worse.

Millen realized something was wrong when he found himself constantly short of breath after walking short distances in his neighborhood or around the house. He stepped down from his post at the Big Ten Network in October 2018 to turn all of his attention toward seeking proper care and treatment from doctors across the United States. This search culminated in a final diagnosis of AL Amyloidosis.

“It’s ironic that the thing that failed was probably the single thing you would use to describe him. All heart, as a player, as a dad, as a husband, as a friend, as a teammate,” said Howie Long, Millen’s former teammate.

This rare disease, which accounts for only 4500 cases a year in the United States, causes the body to produce an abnormal amount of protein that can attack the heart, making it difficult to pump blood throughout the body. The cause of AL Amyloidosis is unknown, and to this day, there is no cure.

In the months following the diagnosis, Millen’s health rapidly declined, with his heart functioning at less than 30 percent. His doctors determined that he was experiencing end stage heart failure, and if he did not receive a transplant, the inevitable outcome would be death.

Millen was admitted to Newark Beth Israel Medical Center, where he waited for a heart he wasn’t sure would ever come. As he waited, he endured 11 months of chemotherapy, in order to alleviate some of the symptoms associated with his disease while also limiting the amount of protein in the bloodstream. But time was running out and Millen was starting to come to terms with his own mortality.

Then, on December 23, 2018, 84 days after being admitted to the hospital, Millen was told he would be getting a new heart. He sent this text to his wife and four children: “❤. It’s on tonight!”

Later that night, Millen entered the operating room for surgery, in what his family members refer to as a Christmas Eve miracle. Although the AL Amyloidosis put Millen at an increased risk for excessive bleeding, the transplant went relatively smoothly, and the donor heart was a perfect match.

Now, three months post-surgery, Millen is recovering well and living his life as normally as possible, with minor changes in his daily routine. He now has to take up to 60 pills a day to prevent rejection of his new heart, but he doesn’t seem to mind one bit. Millen is grateful for this new chance he has at life and is determined to make the most of it. Whether he is working in his personal wood shop building furniture, or spending time with his wife, Patricia, and their four children, Millen cherishes every moment he has.


Rory Pelella is a Penn State student and Onward State contributor.
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