EAGAN, Minn. — Sometimes one just has to find the good in the bad.
Cam Smith was heading into his second season as a Vikings linebacker when he tested positive for COVID-19.
The positive test put the 2019 fifth-round pick on a temporary reserve list that has been created in response to the pandemic.
Further examination revealed a previously undiagnosed and potentially life-threatening congenital heart problem that requires season-ending surgery.
"Although this will unfortunately end my 2020 season, it is really a blessing that we found this as my heart is severely enlarged and wouldn't have lasted much longer," Smith posted on his Instagram account. "I found this out after I tested positive for [COVID-19] and had to have further testing done as protocol. The Lord works in mysterious ways, but I could really feel him on this one."
Smith was asked Friday during a video session with media members if the pandemic that has cost so many other lives saved his.
"Yeah, the way it looks right now, I wouldn't have ever known about this — or as soon as I do now — without getting tested for COVID and testing positive in that timeframe," Smith said. "It does feel like it's a blessing in a way that I did test positive, and the further tests to make sure I was all right did save my life. It's an interesting feeling, but I feel like it's a blessing in disguise, and there's a lot of good that came from that."
Smith said he tested positive on his first test and for the antibodies that fight coronavirus. His four subsequent COVID-19 tests were all negative, but the Vikings included an EKG during Smith's pre-camp physical.
He said Vikings Vice President of Sports Medicine/Head Athletic Trainer Eric Sugarman recommended the enhanced examination "to make sure nothing was wrong with my heart because I did have some symptoms in the long run."
"So we did an echocardiogram the day after I came in to do my physical. They saw the echo, and it didn't look right," Smith said. "I went in two days later and got the MRI and went from there. It was a good week-and-a-half later before I realized what was going on."
The words "open heart surgery" shocked the 23-year-old.
"My head just instantly started rushing, and I just didn't know what the next plan was," Smith said. "It was just a lot. It was very overwhelming."
He spoke with the doctor and drove the 30 minutes back to Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center in silence, worrying about the unknown, not yet knowing the next steps.
Encouraging words from multiple places followed and have helped.
"Sug' had really kind of eased [my mind], and we talked just kind of how positive this was in the long run and that it's such a great thing that we found it," Smith said. "That kind of helped me out a lot. Then I started talking to my parents and my family, and my friends as well, and researching it more and more, I realized it's a very common surgery.
"When I posted it on social media, a lot of people reached out to me and told me that either they had the same bicuspid aortic valve surgery, or that they'd known someone who had it done, and how much better they feel after," Smith added. "With that, it made my thoughts a lot more positive and optimistic, and I feel like I'm at a good place right now."
Per NFL procedures, to move Smith from the Vikings active roster to their Reserve/Non-Football Injury (NFI) list, the team needed to first waive him with a failed physical designation. After clearing waivers, he reverted to the Vikings Reserve/NFL list.
Smith said Friday that he's incredibly appreciative of the support he's received from people in the Vikings organization, family, friends and fans, as well as patients who have undergone similar surgeries and emerged feeling healthier, even better than they knew they could.
He's been involved with the team, offering coaching points to young players as Verizon Vikings Training Camp has gotten underway.
"I talked to Cam a little bit," Head Coach Mike Zimmer said Friday, opting to keep their specific conversations between them.
"Cam is a great kid; it's disappointing for him," Zimmer added. "Honestly, it's probably a blessing that this happened. He'll live a normal life, and there's a possibility he can play football. He's really excited about it. He's been out there every day; he watches and helps coach the guys. He wants to be here the whole year, whether it's helping break down film or helping guys do anything. He just wants to be around, and that's why he'll be a success with this, too."
Co-Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers Coach Adam Zimmer said this week that his "heart goes out to Cameron."
"He was really excited about this season," Adam Zimmer said. "He really played well in the Bears game, the last game of the year. My prayers go out to him that he can get this fixed and come back 100 percent. I know all the linebackers are behind him."
Smith said he's scheduled to travel to Philadelphia on Aug. 20, undergo pre-op tests the next day and have the surgery on Aug. 24.
"I've heard a lot of people feel really good after. Like when it's done, they feel like their body is functioning the way it should. I've heard around three months after the sternum bone heals, I should feel just about 100 percent," Smith said. "I know around Week 4 or 5, I'll be able to start running and being active and getting back in the swing of things. Then it's going to take a little bit longer for me to lift heavy [weights] again, just because that bone still isn't fully healed. At the 12-week mark, I should be feeling good to do anything I want to do."
In the meantime, he'll know that he has the support of so many.
"Most definitely," said tight end and 2019 NFL Draft classmate Irv Smith, Jr. "We came in together last year and got to learn a lot about each other. For Cam, he has a lot of talent and things he can do on the football field, but as a person, that's what's most important now, just making sure that he's OK. He'll be back eventually, but right now, we're just worried about his health."
The linebacker said doctors believe "100 percent that if I've been playing football this entire time, that there should be no reason why I can't after."
"Because I'll be fixed; I'll be better; and I'll be in a healthier state than I have been for the past 23 years," he continued. "I am driven and ready to return next year and hopefully take what I've learned and the experiences I've had and just only get better from this point."