MF: That summer, you had surgery to remove 13 inches of your intestine and dropped to 260 pounds. How did you handle that?
ML: It’s definitely not easy when you go 30 straight days without eating and you’re a 310-pound mammal and you don’t leave a hospital room. I had about as many setbacks as you can. None of them were fun and most were very painful, but I got through all of them because I have good people around me. I have a wife who supported me. I don’t remember it completely, but at one point I woke up and my wife was in front of me showing me a big Super Bowl ring. She had just gotten back from the ring ceremony and wanted to bring it straight to the hospital room. I thought, “I have to get back and try to win another one of those.”
MF: You recovered an won that third ring. Did your career change the way you treated the disease?
ML: I wasn’t willing to try some of the treatments that were available at the time because of what I did for a living. They just didn’t mesh well. Now that I’m recently retired, I don’t have to train the way I did before, which really beat up the body and was very stressful with Crohn’s. I don’t have to eat as much, even though I think I probably still do. On top of that, being educated and living with this disease for a while, I’ve found out what’s out there and what makes the most sense.
MF: Why didn’t you want to talk about the disease during your playing days?
ML: I didn’t want a bad play on my part to be turned into, “He battles this disease, and if he didn’t have that, he probably wouldn’t have had a bad game.” I didn’t need that, and I didn’t need a crutch to lean on. My battle was my battle, and it wasn’t for anyone else’s consumption at that point.
MF: So why are you speaking out now?
ML: Having retired, and having the platform I have, it’s just a natural thing to be able to share my story with people. If I can play professional sports and find a way to live with this disease, then you have some hope. Everybody battles it differently, but your mindset and staying positive are so important. Educate yourself and know that there are resources out there for you. Those are the kinds of things that will truly make the biggest difference, knowing this is something you deal with day-to-day for the rest of your life. Groups like Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America are incredible. I didn’t know what it was in 2001. I’d never heard of it. But now I can’t talk to anyone nowdays who doesn’t say I have a cousin or a friend who deals with it day in and day out.