EAGAN, Minn – Jordan Hicks is feeling especially thankful this holiday season.
After all, he could have lost his leg.
The Vikings linebacker spoke to media members Thursday about the extent of the injury that landed him transit in an ambulance to emergency surgery immediately following Minnesota's Nov. 12 game against the Saints.
"I didn't realize how bad it could have been," said Hicks, who is on Injured Reserve but expressed belief he could still return to action this season. "Thankful for the training staff, the doctors, everybody on the sideline making quick decisions to get me to the hospital. I was in excruciating pain, and they called the shots and said, 'Let's go.' I'm thankful for them."
On just the fifth play of that contest, Hicks went to tackle running back Alvin Kamara and was struck inadvertently by Vikings safety Camryn Bynum, whose knee collided with Hicks' shin.
Hicks immediately felt the pain of a contusion but tested his leg on the sideline and felt like he could re-enter the game, which he did. Even in the locker room at halftime, he felt OK. But at the end of the second half's opening drive, he knew something wasn't right.
"There's a play on Kamara in the backfield where I almost rolled my ankle trying to make a cut because I had no more strength in my ankle. Finished out that drive and couldn't – I was at the point where I couldn't lift my foot; I had no more dorsiflexion. Strength was gone. I started getting some numbing in my toes," Hicks explained. "Went back into the locker room, sat back on the table and it seriously felt like instantly, the adrenaline went away and pain just skyrocketed through the roof. I seriously don't even remember the training room too much because of how much pain I was in. People were coming up to me and wishing me good luck and everything; I couldn't tell you whose face I saw in that moment."
A nine-season NFL veteran, Hicks is certainly no stranger to pain.
But this? He entered a new realm.
"It's the deepest, darkest ache you can probably imagine," Hicks said. "I was full-drenched [with] sweat, I'm twisting and turning, trying to get comfortable. Couldn't get comfortable. Ended up in the fetal position, just lying there, trying to focus on breathing because it was so bad. It was excruciating pain.
What was thought to initially be a deep bruise quickly developed into compartment syndrome, a condition in which pressure rises in and around muscles, most often in the lower leg. Compartment syndrome can limit the flow of blood, oxygen and nutrients to muscles and nerves. It can cause serious damage, including the need for amputation, and, in rare cases, even death.
Hicks had never previously heard of the condition.
"I had no clue about anything like this before that situation, really even until after I woke up from surgery and heard the doctors say, 'It's a good thing you got in, because you could have lost your leg,' " he said. "Ever since then, I've heard countless stories of people having to get stuff amputated, having to get muscle taken out, having drop foot – permanent damage. Wild. Crazy. I'm thankful and blessed to be where I'm at."
Hicks had been loaded into the ambulance within minutes of the game ending and raced to M Health Fairview Southdale, where he entered surgery within 15 minutes of arrival.
Doctors made a lengthy incision into Hicks' leg, allowing the trapped blood to escape. The wound was left open for four days to allow additional draining before being stitched up.
"Don't go on the Internet and search what it looks like. It's extremely graphic," Hicks warned. "Four days later, they sewed it up. It's been three weeks, and it's already scarring over and I'm walking good and feeling good. It's been a process, but it's been good.
"Functionally, everything was done right. We were able to get it done quick enough that there was no permanent damage," he continued. "Strength is good. With this injury, if everything is normal, they get you up walking and doing things pretty quickly. I was up walking a couple days after, per the doctor. Yeah, blessed. I'm very blessed."
Hicks noted he's "pretty optimistic" he will return to the field yet this season. NFL rules require a player to miss at least four games before returning from Injured Reserve, so the soonest he'd be eligible to return would be Dec. 24 against the Lions.
Hicks is feeling good but remains careful in his rehab and recovery.
"We're pushing it right now. We're trying to see how much it can handle. You don't want to push it too far and have it swell up or do anything like that," he explained. "So each day, there's a process to it. And obviously conditioning, strength, I'm sitting on the couch for two-and-a-half weeks doing nothing, just trying to let it heal. Decrease the risk of infection as much as possible.
"Then you just continue to make strides toward those checkpoints," he added. "We've got them laid out, we're trying to make those strides, and once we're all comfortable with where I'm at, it's go time."