Brock Lesnar's Fight for His Life

By Loretta Hunt Jan 20, 2010
UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar said his road to wellness included multiple misdiagnoses, substandard medical care and a frantic car ride across the Canadian border.

Lesnar, who has battled through a painful intestinal infection called diverticulitis for the last few months, related his story during a Wednesday conference call.

“I didn’t know what was going on at first,” Lesnar said. “I was very sick. I’ve been suffering almost a year with something I didn’t know what it was. I had some stomach pains here and there and some flu-like symptoms throughout the year. Actually, during the training camp for Shane Carwin is when everything just kind of snowballed. That’s when I realized I was missing full weeks of my training camp because I just couldn’t perform. That’s when I decided four weeks out to give these guys (the UFC) hopefully enough notice.”

Lesnar said the last thing he wanted to do was give a “bad performance” or “risk losing my title,” so he withdrew from a Nov. 21 contest against Carwin at UFC 106. The promotion tentatively rescheduled the bout for UFC 108 on Jan. 2 in Las Vegas, while the 32-year-old fighter kept returning to the doctor to pinpoint what was wrong with him.

Lesnar said physicians gave a couple of potential diagnoses, including mononucleosis and the H1N1 virus. Lesnar acknowledged that he refused to get a CT scan, which might have allowed doctors to diagnose him properly at the time.

“In my mind, I either had the flu or mono, and so I had to pull the pin and decided to take a little vacation and get away from the chaos and head up to Canada and do some hunting,” Lesnar said.

In Canada, Lesnar said he woke up one night in “shock” and in a cold sweat.

“I mean it was big time,” he said. “(I) didn’t know where I was and realized I had to seek medical help. … I’m out in the boondocks. It was about two and a half, three hours from what I thought would be a good medical facility.”

Lesnar said he soon became concerned with the care he was receiving.

“Probably the lowest moment was getting care from Canada,” he said. “I hate to bash them, but … not to get on the political side of things, but our healthcare system is a little radical, but listen, we’ve got the best doctors in the world here. Our system does need some restructuring, but I don’t believe a total reform is the answer.

“They couldn’t do nothing for me,” Lesnar continued. “It was like I was in a third-world country. I just looked at my wife and she saved my life and I had to get out of here. I’m just stating the facts here, and that’s the facts. I love Canada. I own property in Canada, but if I had to choose between getting care in Canada or the United States, I’d definitely want to be in the United States.”

Lesnar wouldn’t reveal the name of the Canadian medical center where he received his initial care, but he said that machinery at the facility wasn’t working when the staff needed it.

“I wasn’t at the right facility, and it makes sense for me to say that,” Lesnar explained. “I knew that I had to get out of there. My wife saved my life. She got me out of there and drove a hundred miles an hour to get me to Bismarck, North Dakota, to Medcenter One, got me with Dr. Berger and his staff at Medcenter One, and that doctor there saved my career and my life.”

During the 100-mile-an-hour car ride with his wife at the wheel, Lesnar said he was in “excruciating” pain.

“That’s when I made the phone call to Dana, cursing him out and telling him to send the jet for me,” Lesnar laughed.

UFC President Dana White said his low-point came when he saw his heavyweight champion in the North Dakota hospital.

“He didn’t eat. They were feeding him intravenously. He didn’t know what was going on,” White said. “They had him on morphine for the pain and he was panicking and freaking out, (and) ripping heads off, mine included.”

The Bismarck medical staff properly diagnosed Lesnar’s condition, he said.

“It extended to me to diverticulosis. … I had a perforation. One of my diverticula ruptured,” he said. “I had a hole in my stomach, needless to say, a minor hole, but any tear in your stomach liner releases free air and I was killing myself. My abscesses were so large that my body was infected. My body couldn’t gain all the nutrients I needed. I couldn’t eat enough food to get enough energy.”

Lesnar’s doctors wanted to perform major surgery once the area’s swelling had gone down.

“What they wanted to do was go in and remove the bad section of my colon,” Lesnar said. “If that perforation hadn’t have healed itself, that’s what I was facing.”

Lesnar said that route would have entailed wearing a colostomy bag for six to eight weeks, then additional surgery to reattach his intestines together. If Lesnar had gone through with the surgery, he said he “would have probably retired.”

During his 11-day stay at Medcenter One, Lesnar said the staff performed a “small medical procedure,” where a six-inch needle was placed in the fighter’s stomach to drain three pockets of fluid. Lesnar said 14 CC’s of fluid were removed in all. Lesnar was also prescribed multiple antibiotics to fight the infection.

“The next morning, I was able to eat, and that’s when I decided that I’d had enough of the hospital and then I proceeded to go home,” he said.

Lesnar visited the Mayo Clinic the next week for a second opinion, though the Mayo physicians concurred with the North Dakota staff: Lesnar would need major surgery within three months to correct the situation. Lesnar was asked to return in six weeks for a colonoscopy examination to assess the damage once his swelling had receded.

Lesnar returned to his Alexandria, Minn., home and did something wholly unconventional: He went back into the gym.

“I lost 40 pounds, so I wanted to get my weight back, start eating healthier,” he said. “What got me here was a total protein diet, not enough fiber. I totally changed my diet, got on some natural healing medicine and was just doing a lot of praying.”

The change in diet wasn’t easy, but it was necessary.

“I’m a carnivore, you know? I’m not a big fan of PETA. I’m a member of the NRA and whatever I kill, I eat,” Lesnar said. “For years, I was surviving on meat and potatoes, and when the greens came by, I just kept passing them.”

Lesnar, a self-described “private person,” did not comment publicly on his ordeal during this time. Reporters turned to the UFC, and when they ran out of answers, the media went to his camp.

“When my own camp comes out and says things when they’re not authorized to say anything, it pissed me off,” Lesnar said. “Automatically, I want to get rid of those people because they’re the people I trust and for them to go out and speak on my behalf, I was not happy. I am a private guy. I didn’t want to talk to anybody because there was nothing to talk about.”

When Lesnar returned to the Mayo Clinic on Jan. 5, he and the doctors were astonished by what they found.

“They found absolutely nothing,” Lesnar said. ‘The doctors came in and their whole panel at the Mayo Clinic just said, ‘You just got a winning lottery ticket. We don’t need to do surgery on you.’”

Lesnar had another CT scan Monday to verify the findings, which remain intact for the time being. He said he’ll return to the gym on Thursday morning. At his lightest, Lesnar said he weighed 248 pounds. Today, he said he’s back up to 273 pounds.

“I consider myself a healthy human being. I’m 32 years old and for something like this to happen to me, I definitely had to re-evaluate,” Lesnar said. “When you think you’re doing all of the right things and all of a sudden something like this happens, obviously you’re not. I had to make some changes.”

White said Lesnar will fight the winner of the March 27 interim championship bout between Frank Mir and Shane Carwin. The title reunification bout that follows will likely be held in Las Vegas, said White.

Lesnar said he’ll be prepared for whichever challenger emerges.

“I’m getting ready for anybody and everybody,” said Lesnar. “I know the heavyweight division is definitely back on its toes again because Brock Lesnar is definitely back.”
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