In a video described as emotionally touching, Texans rookie wide receiver John Metchie III delivered a message about his difficult personal health situation to his teammates.
Instead of the tradition of coach Lovie Smith addressing the team before the official start of training camp, Metchie spoke to the team in a video message. Metchie was recently diagnosed with leukemia, a highly curable form called acute promyelocytic leukemia, and the second-round draft pick from Alabama is expected to miss his entire rookie season while focusing on his treatment and recovery. He is on the non-football illness list.
"Obviously it was emotional," Texans linebacker Christian Kirksey said. "Whenever you hear a brother have to go through that, you never want to see somebody have to go through it. I have some people that I knew, that was close to me, that dealt with some of the same things. Maybe not exactly, but something similar so I can understand what he's going through and just prayers out to him. We are going to crowd around him and put our arms around him, this whole organization. We are going to do whatever we need to do to help him and we are going to be right there by his side.
“We're regular people up to regular things. We go through life and things happen. We're not superhuman. We have feelings. We have a heart. It just goes to show you that, you know, you're Superman on the football field but you're Clark Kent when you have to go and face real battles. It's eye-opening for everybody.”
Smith wanted to make sure that Metchie, who recently issued a statement saying he's in good spirits and optimistic about his medical outlook, had a chance to communicate with his teammates. They've expressed their concern, and they have his back.
"I normally start off the first meeting addressing our football team," Smith said. "This year, we let John Metchie do it. There were a lot of questions on what’s going on with his health, so I let him to talk the football team and let them know what he has in store this year and how it would affect our football team. All I can say about that is we have a family member fighting something serious and were going to be there every step of the way with him. Eventually, he will get back out there with our football team and we can’t wait for that.
"He's fighting something serious. What can you do as a teammate? What can you do? You can show support. We’ve tried to get the message to all the players on exactly what John is going through, but it was good for them to hear his voice -- talking about being here to support you and but I can’t be with the team right now, eventually I’ll be there. But you can imagine how it was.”
Texans wide receiver Brandin Cooks said the video was inspirational to him. Metchie's bravery about his diagnosis has wowed his teammates.
“His spirit is so amazing, his positivity going through all this,” Cooks said. “I’m like, 'Man a lot of respect to you.' He’s just built different. No doubt in our mind that he’s going to get through this and we’re going to be with him every step of the way. It was one of those things that you are expecting like someone to be down but in the video, he's just smiling.”
“It was sad because you never expect a guy like that, a young guy, healthy guy, but you never question what God has planned," Texans cornerback Steven Nelson said. "But I just know he's going to be all right.”
Texans general manager Nick Caserio, noting that the leukemia diagnosis was learned recently, emphasized that Metchie's health is the only priority.
"Fortunately, we’re blessed to have some of the best doctors and the best hospitals in the city of Houston, so he’s been under great care," Caserio said. "We’ve had dialogue, we’ve had communication with John. He’s in good spirits. He’s kind of taking it one day at a time, so there’s no time table. His attitude has been great. We’ve had some dialogue with him, some of our coaches have talked with him.
"So, trying to keep him engaged, trying to keep him involved, but the most important thing is his health and his well-being. This is not about football, it’s just about him recovering and him being able to lead a good life and then we’ll see where we end up here at some point."
According to medical journals, APL is a "unique subtype of Acute Myeloid Leukemia with cells in the bone marrow that produce blood cells (red cells, white cells, and platelets) that do not develop and function normally. APL begins with one or more acquired changes (mutations) to the DNA of a single blood-forming cell. APL cells have a very specific abnormality that involves chromosomes 15 and 17, leading to the formation of an abnormal fusion gene PML/RARα. This mutated gene causes many of the features of the disease."
A common symptom of APL is bleeding due to reduced numbers of platelets and deficiencies in clotting factors. That symptom can be life-threatening and has to be managed by medical supervision to prevent complications and treat the disease.
A common treatment for APL is a highly successful drug called ATRA (all-trans retinoic acid) to target the chromosomal abnormality. Because of advances in treatment, cure rates of 90% have been reported from medical centers specializing in APL treatment.
"Recently, I was diagnosed with APL (Acute Promyelocytic Leukemia), the most curable form of Leukemia," Metchie said in a statement last week. "I am currently receiving great medical care, am in good spirits, and I expect to make a recovery at a later point in time.
"As a result of this diagnosis, I will likely not be playing football this season. My main focus will be on my health and recovery. Thank you in advance for your support and well-wishes. I cannot wait to come back stronger than ever. God bless."
Aaron Wilson is a Pro Football Network reporter and a contributor to Sports Talk 790.