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Digestive Health and Wellness

How This Former NFL Player is Tackling Crohn’s Disease

Photo: Courtesy of the Matt Light Foundation

Matt Light likes a good challenge, and when it comes to his battle with a severe inflammatory bowel disease, he’s been successful.

Light, who spent his eight-year career in professional football with the New England Patriots, has had to fight to advocate for himself to achieve that success.

“I had a doctor tell me three days after I was diagnosed, ‘Well, this is what you have to do.’ And I politely told him, ‘Well, I don’t have to do anything,’ and it turned me off from that doctor immediately,” said Light, 41. “I never went back to him because if I’m going to keep an open mind, my doctor better sure as hell keep an open mind.”

A lifelong battle

Light has been managing Crohn’s disease since he was diagnosed with the form of IBD during his rookie year with the Patriots. Crohn’s, which is an incurable autoimmune disease, is marked by inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract and causes unexplained weight loss, recurrent diarrhea, and rectal pain. Despite the common misconception, Crohn’s is not contagious, and anyone who has it is not weak.

“I tell a lot of the younger kids that I talk to about this that your body is actually far more active than everybody else’s. You’re actually attacking your cells,” Light said. “In one way, you’re stronger than everybody around you; you’re too strong. That’s really what Crohn’s is — Crohn’s is an overactive immune system attacking its cells and causing them harm.”

Staying Strong

He said his journey with the health condition has had its ups and downs, including a surgery in which nearly 10 inches of his intestine was removed.

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“That was a very difficult time period,” Light said. “It was right in the middle of coming off of one Super Bowl, and after it happened, we ended up winning another one. I didn’t end up missing any games, but it was challenging in a number of games.”

What’s been a game changer for Light is figuring out where his food comes from, opting for fresh foods as much as possible, and identifying his triggers for flare-ups. For Light, attitude has also been critical.

“I didn’t ask for any special treatment. It was my battle, and probably [Crohn’s] took my mind off a lot of other things,” he said. “Ultimately, it gave me a healthy respect for a good day versus taking it for granted.”

Melinda Carter, [email protected]

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