Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Marc-Olivier Brouillette's battle to keep his leg

Earning a place in the CFL is sometimes seen as one long battle. Players first have to do enough to be drafted or receive a camp invite, then more to make the roster, then more still to see playing time and then even more to keep their jobs. It's not an easy struggle by any means, but every now and then, a story comes out that reminds us that the battle for a CFL job is really a minor one in the grand scheme of things. That's the case with this Versus Quebec story from Anthony Côté-Leduc, on Montreal Alouettes' linebacker Marc-Olivier Brouillette and how he almost lost his leg last year.

Brouillette (#10 in the above picture, seen trying to bring down Hamilton's Marcus Thigpen in a July game last year), who had a great CIS career as a quarterback at the Université de Montréal, was drafted with the last pick of the third round (23rd overall) by the Alouettes last season. He was converted to linebacker and was making an impact on special teams for Montreal, but ran into trouble when the team travelled to Calgary at the end of September. He woke up with a fever and thought it was the flu, so he just stayed in his hotel for two days, sleeping 22 hours a day. When he returned to Montreal with the team, he had a startling awakening.

"The next morning when I opened my eyes, my leg was twice as big as usual ... my ankle to my hip," Brouillette said. "It was far from beautiful."

Brouillette went to the emergency room, and after several blood tests, was told he had some form of bacterial infection similar to flesh-eating disease. There was serious discussion of amputating his leg to prevent the infection from spreading. That certainly would have ended his football playing career, but as he told Côté-Leduc, that was the last thing on his mind at the time.

"When I heard about the amputation, I was really afraid," he said. "I started thinking about all those little everyday things that would be changed. Driving, climbing stairs ... I felt helpless about it all. I thought to my wedding in May, to how it would affect my wife and everyone around me. ... Football is the last thing I thought of that time."

After five days of antibiotic treatment, nothing was working. Brouillette didn't lose his leg, but he had to undergo surgery to remove up to a litre and a half of infected blood from the area, and things didn't get easier after that either. The bacteria spread to his lungs and gave him pneumonia.

"I spent three weeks in hospital on a respirator. I had a hard time getting up to go to the bathroom. I lost over 30 pounds during that period. It was hell."

He finally left the hospital a month after the first symptoms and spent almost the entire month of November to learn how to live normally.

"I did not go out, I had no strength and I could not see my teammates either. They were afraid of contamination within the team."

Brouillette recovered in time to watch the team practice for the East Final against Toronto, and he made the trip to Edmonton to watch his teammates claim their second-straight Grey Cup last November. That inspired him to continue the fight and work to the point where he could get back on the field. After a hard offseason of training, he married his fiancee in May and is now set to fight for a job in the Alouettes' training camp. Even if football doesn't work out for him this year, though, that's not the be-all and end-all. Much like his teammate Anthony Calvillo, Brouillette has already proven victorious in a much more important fight.

Samaire Armstrong Selita Ebanks Michael Michele Marisa Tomei Shannyn Sossamon

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