When O’Brian White scored his first goal for the Sounders FC against the San Jose Earthquakes, then followed it up with another goal against the Chicago Fire, it seemed like things couldn’t get any better for him. He even added an assist two weeks later in a dramatic 1-0 win over the Colorado Rapids.
Things weren’t as they seemed though and on April 27 he underwent surgery to remove the blood clot from his left leg.
White returned to the field last week, but is just running with simple changes in direction. It is a far cry from the man who just five weeks earlier underwent surgery on a potentially life-threatening malady.
Not long after scoring his first goal for the Sounders, White was feeling numbness in his lower left leg.
At first the training staff thought it might be related to nerve damage, but an MRI came back negative. When the numbness went from his foot to his calf after the match against Colorado, he knew something was wrong. After struggling through one training session, he couldn’t even get through the warm-up for the next session and had his leg checked again. This time he had an ultrasound done and it revealed the blood clot, which had gone from his inner thigh down to his calf.
“It was pretty shocking,” White said. “I tried to make plans for the surgery and they said I had to do it right then. I didn’t even get a chance to tell a lot of my family.”
Blood clots occur when the blood coagulates within a blood vessel. Where that could become fatal is if the clot breaks off and flows back through the heart and into the lungs where it can cause a blockage in a smaller blood vessel and prevent the lungs from working properly.
White’s concern wasn’t just with the possible life-threatening implications of the blood clot though. He was just as worried about the surgery itself.
“Whenever you go into surgery, there’s no guarantee you’ll wake up. I was scared,” he said. “Mine was in the artery, which was new for even the surgeon. They thought that was unusual and they didn’t really know what caused it. I was actually worried about staying in the hospital. I’ve never had to stay in the hospital.”
While he is grateful that the blood clot was found and he had the surgery, it really could not have come at a worse time for the 25-year-old Jamaican forward.
His surgery came just days after the Sounders already lost Steve Zakuani to a fractured tibia and fibula in his right leg. At the time, White and Zakuani led the team with two goals and two assists apiece through the club’s first seven matches.
Additionally, it is a Gold Cup year, so he could have been playing for either Jamaica or Canada in the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
Although he came up through Jamaica’s youth teams, scoring goals at the U-15, U-17 and U-20 levels, he is still undecided about where he will play his international soccer if the opportunity arises. He does have one cap with Jamaica, but it was in a friendly with Costa Rica, so he still has the option to play for Canada as well.
He could have been playing for them right now in the CONCACAF Gold cup, where Jamaica topped Grenada 4-0 on Monday and Canada fell 2-0 to the United States on Tuesday.
“I’m not really thinking about that, to be honest,” White said of missing the Gold Cup. “I’m just focused on the Sounders and enjoying myself here. I was doing good, the team was picking up and we just lost Steve. It was a rough time for the team and myself.”
Interestingly, he was actually contacted by Jamaica to play in the Gold Cup. They were unaware of the severity of his injury.
However, this is not the first time a player in MLS has had this type of surgery. In 2001, then-Columbus Crew forward Brian McBride missed much of the MLS season because of a blood clot in his upper right arm - a reformation of a clot that he had removed nearly one year earlier while he was playing with Preston North End in the English First Division.
On both occasions, he missed three months of action while on blood thinners. When he came back in 2002, he tallied five goals and five assists in 14 games and helped the Crew to their first championship, the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup title.
White, too, was on blood thinners for an extended period, in which he could not participate in physical activities. But now, just a month and a half later, he is back on the field running, nearing the chance to start doing more soccer-specific movements before he gets into the more rigorous training sessions with the team.
“I think the hardest thing is watching your team play knowing you could help your team. Since I’ve been here the organization has been very supportive of me and I wish I was back out there training. We’re taking things slow and they’re monitoring everything I do, but it’s going good so far,” said White, who lost 14 pounds after the surgery, but said he has gained six pounds back already. “I feel no pain. It’s getting better every day and I’m doing more. And it’s always good to see the guys. I’m excited to get back to the field.”