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Football Only The First Act For Medicine-Minded Gado


Prayers and a pocketful of Advil weren't enough to save Samkon Gado's cousin from what he can only assume was AIDS.

Three years ago, before his improbable rise from the practice squad to become the Green Bay Packers' starting running back last season, Gado returned to his native Nigeria to visit family members he hadn't seen since moving to the United States at age 9.

It was on that trip that he met a cousin who had just given birth despite being very sick. The father had been kidnapped and was being held for ransom.

Gado and his family prayed with the woman, giving her whatever medicine they were carrying. But three weeks after he returned to the U.S., Gado received word that the woman had died. The family assumes the father died in captivity and the baby was born with AIDS.

But, as was the case with several of Gado's cousins who died of AIDS-like symptoms, that's just an educated guess. There aren't enough clinics in Nigeria to properly diagnose the disease.

"Stories like that, that's just normal," Gado said. "That's not even special."

But they're special to Gado, who wants to become a doctor and return to Nigeria when he is done playing football.

"I think that the problem that is going on in Africa is really being overlooked, and I think it's kind of sad," he said. "I mean, America has the right to do whatever it chooses. It's its own country. It doesn't have to do things because other people tell them to do it. But I think when you just look at the need, I feel like it's too hard to ignore."

But Gado isn't using his platform as an athlete to grandstand -- he's talking about the things he has seen because he was asked about them.

Besides, his ultimate plan involves action, not words.

"I've seen (it) first hand, and I think it would be very egregious for me to overlook that," he said.

Gado -- whose three 100-yard rushing games in the second half of last season provided one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dismal 4-12 season -- will continue to play football for the foreseeable future.

But he already has taken a first step toward his future, working three days a week at a Green Bay hospital in the offseason. He didn't tell patients who he was, and most of them didn't recognize him. The jobs he did weren't glamorous: he pricked tricky veins to capture blood samples and helped patients go to the bathroom.

But the experience reassured Gado of something he's known since a biology class piqued the intellectual curiosity of an otherwise average high school student: He was meant to practice medicine.

Gado took pre-med classes at Liberty, a small Baptist university in Virginia founded by Rev. Jerry Falwell, and maintained a 3.66 grade point average. Given the school's atmosphere and his own deeply held religious views, Gado also thought a lot about the religious implications of a career in medicine.

"Just the way (the body) functions and it works, it's so amazing," Gado said. "Even now, we don't completely understand everything there is to know about the body, just the complexity. So I just look at that and that tells me there has to be a God."

Some people have a hard time reconciling science with religion, but that isn't a problem for Gado.

"I believe that the nature of who God is is made evident in science," Gado said.

The nature of who Gado is, however, is something the running back tried to cover up while working at Bellin Hospital in the offseason. Most of the time, he got away with it.

Gado didn't tell patients who he was because he didn't want to put himself above the rest of the hospital staff. And he didn't want people to think he was just playing doctor for the sake of good public relations.

"I really just wanted to blend in," Gado said. "I wasn't doing it for show. I didn't want people to say, 'Oh, look at this Green Bay Packer working.' I really wanted the experience. And I'm going to do it again next year."

But his cover was, of course, blown a few times. The first person to recognize him was a man who had just come out of surgery and told his wife in a drug-induced haze that the guy wearing scrubs played for the Packers.

"She says, 'My husband swears that you're Samkon Gado and I'm telling him that you're not, that you wouldn't be working here if you were.' And he'd just gotten out of surgery, so this guy was doped up," Gado said.

Gado fessed up. After the initial shock, the woman asked, "What are you doing here?"

A little bit of everything, it turns out. A typical shift began at 5:00 a.m. and involved everything from measuring vital signs to helping patients get out of bed.

Drawing blood was "nerve-racking," Gado said, but he brags that he only had to hand the needle over to the nurse once in more than a dozen attempts.

"Not everyone has very prominent veins that you can see," Gado said. "So sometimes you're poking into something that you just feel. You don't see it. You just have to kind of have a feel for it, and you're just hoping that you're pricking the right place."

Helping patients use the bathroom? Not fun, but part of the job.

Overall, Gado said the experience greatly improved his bedside manner.

"I've heard you either have it or you don't, but I felt like whatever bedside manner I did have, I think I improved on it," he said.

Similar improvement will be demanded of Gado by the Packers' new coaching staff. Coach Mike McCarthy offered only lukewarm praise after Friday's mini-camp practice, saying the new offense is "different" for Gado and he is "getting better."

Beyond that, Ahman Green and Najeh Davenport -- the two running backs whose injuries last season propelled Gado into the lineup -- are poised to return soon.

Gado said he won't complain if he ends up second or third on the depth chart. But he isn't resigned to going back to the bench.

"I'll tell you what," he said. "I am going to fight for that spot."

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