Both of these statements about Seantrel Henderson are true:
• A tomato sandwich on wheat bread could send him to the hospital.
The former is a fact many know about Henderson, a third-year right tackle for the Buffalo Bills and former Miami Hurricane. The latter is something he didn’t know until last year, when a severe form of an intestinal disease turned his gut poisonous and caused doctors to think his football career might be over.
Henderson, speaking publicly for the first time about the pain and fears of his ordeal, said he played last season with stabbing sensations in his stomach that grew so bad his 6-foot-7, 330-pound body shook. He vomited regularly. He lost 50 pounds. Eventually, surgeons removed 80 diseased centimeters of his large and small intestines.
For three months, food he ate eat left his body through a tube inserted into a hole above his waist.
That’s because of Crohn’s disease, an incurable inflammatory disorder that can impair the function of the stomach, intestines, colon and nearby organs. Symptoms include abdominal cramping, diarrhea, internal bleeding and fatigue. Some cases are mild and treated through dietary changes. Henderson’s was especially severe. It caused doctors to say two fearsome words he didn’t think he would hear: emergency surgery.
“The pain hurt, but nothing scared me like that,” he told The Post by phone this week. “That’s when I got scared.”
There is no fear in the voice of Henderson, 24, now as he speaks about his condition. After a painful 12-month stretch with two surgeries and months of subsequent complications, he feels he has nearly recovered. He is on Buffalo’s non-football illness list, hoping to soon to resume full training.
He’s also glad to know a little girl in Miami is doing well.
Shared condition creates bond
Jadyn Elise Richt, 2, can’t discuss her condition, but her father can. Hurricanes quarterbacks coach Jon Richt, the oldest son of head coach Mark Richt, also knows about Henderson’s fight. The two created a bond last year in Buffalo, when Jon was a coaching assistant for the Bills trying to balance his first professional coaching job with the fear something terrible was happening to his daughter.
“For about six months, we didn’t know what it was,” Jon said. “[Jadyn] was only nine months old. She wasn’t gaining weight. She wasn’t eating. She was kind of looking frailer and frailer.”
It was a “really scary time” for Jon and his wife, Anna, whom he married while he was a sophmore quarterback at Division II Mars Hill in North Carolina.
Tests revealed Crohn’s, which affects as many as 700,000 in the U.S. according to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America. The young family spent much of 2015 in and out of the hospital. Since Jadyn’s pain has abated, she is more willing to eat. “She’s getting there,” Jon said. “It’s a daily battle. It’s hard to argue with a 2-year-old.”
Jon Richt – whose father is overjoyed to see his only grandchild healthy and living nearby – said he still keeps up with Henderson. They text back and forth, the young coach checking on the big lineman, the big lineman checking on the little girl.
“Me and him have kind of created a cool bond,” Richt said.
Hoping for big comeback
Losing his grip on an NFL starting job was not Henderson’s first hardship.
He was billed as the best player in the 2010 recruiting class, compared to Pro Bowlers and Hall of Famers, a sure-fire first round NFL draft pick. He was a standout in 43 career games, but he fought injuries, weight problems (he was 375 pounds his freshman year) and was suspended at least three times by Miami for “violations of team rules.” He revealed a history of marijuana use during an interview at the Senior Bowl, giving some teams a reason not to draft him.
He was a seventh-round pick in the 2014 draft, but he earned the starting right tackle spot for the Bills. He started all 16 games as a rookie and 10 in his second year, boosting his four-year, $2.8 million contract into bargain status.
Henderson said he dealt with stomach unrest throughout his life, but never had pain at Miami. During training camp last season, he started to feel “a charley horse” on either side of his lower abdominal area.
“It started happening during practices and throughout the day, but it would go away,” he said. “During the season, it started getting worse.”
A part of his intestine had turned toxic. He couldn’t digest food. He began to lose weight. Playing was painful, but in an NFL lockerroom — where players are always told to know the difference between being hurt and being injured — the young pro wasn’t sure if his pain was bad enough to keep him out.
Until December. “I couldn’t deal with the pain,” he said. An overnight hospital stay in Philadelphia led to a Crohn’s diagnosis, the end of his season, and worse.
He was in the hospital from Jan. 9 to Jan. 20, as doctors removed more than two and a half feet of gastrointestinal tract. He returned to the hospital three times because his surgery wounds bled. Until his intestines were reattached in April, he wore an ileostomy bag attached to his stomach, which he said he had to empty every hour.
After his January surgery, he weighed 281 pounds. “I was weak,” he said. “At first I couldn’t stand up on my own. I felt so weak. It was terrible. I didn’t like it at all. I kept walking and walking around the hospital.”
Eight months later he weighs 320 pounds, and passed his training camp conditioning test with the Bills. He often refers to a long list of foods he can’t eat: Tomatoes, corn, gluten, dairy, broccoli (“my favorite vegetable,” he lamented) and fast food are among the offenders. He hopes to reach 330 pounds in the coming weeks. His wounds have healed. His strength is “close” to 2014 levels, he said. Buffalo hasn’t revealed a time frame for his return, but his representatives said he will resume his career. Henderson expects to do so this fall.
“You can’t take anything for granted,” he said. “Last year could have been the last year I’d ever play football. At one point, the doctors were saying I’d have to have that ileostomy bag on the rest of my life. My intestines were so poisonous on the inside. But I healed up really fast. I’m lucky to be working out and looking toward playing again.”
He’s almost ready to take on those defensive ends.
As long as they’re not made of broccoli.