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Tatum Receives Support

August 12, 2003|Sam Farmer | Times Staff Writer

COLUMBUS, Ohio — One Buckeye down, all Buckeyes down.

That's how former Ohio State offensive lineman John Hicks explains the groundswell of support for his friend and Buckeye teammate Jack Tatum, who underwent amputation of his left leg this spring and might have lost his right one the same way if not for the love and backing of his friends.

Hicks not only opened the doors of his Columbus home to Tatum, the longtime Oakland Raider safety, but organized two fund-raisers to help defray the costs of five surgeries in six months. Those fund-raisers attracted dozens of current and former Buckeye players, as well as hundreds of other well-wishers.

Hicks is quick to point out it wasn't a one-man effort, but a collaboration by several of Tatum's Ohio State teammates and college friends.

"One of us was hurting," explained Hicks, a former first-round pick of the New York Giants. "Nobody ever thought Jack would get sick."

Tatum's health took a turn for the worse at the beginning of the year, and in February doctors in Oakland removed some toes on his left foot. The bottom half of his left leg was amputated in March. And soon after, he developed open sores on his right foot that would not heal. Hicks needed about a week to persuade Tatum to come back to Columbus for a second opinion from Dr. Manuel Tzagournis, an endocrinologist so respected at Ohio State he has a building named after him.

On July 11, Tzagournis operated on Tatum, repairing an abdominal aneurysm and installing two stents to help open arterial blockages and facilitate blood flow to the legs. Tatum spent more than a week at Ohio State University Medical Center, then spent the next two weeks recovering at Hicks' home, a place he visits each year and where he's known as "Uncle Jack."

"I think that's quite important," Tzagournis said. "When you know that you're supported warmly and encouraged and inspired, your immune system and your healing power simply work better."

Ben Espy, a former Ohio state senator and Buckeye running back who had lost part of his leg when a building collapsed on him, visited Tatum and gave him encouragement. Tatum got calls from several Raiders, including chief executive Amy Trask, and former players Willie Brown, George Atkinson and Morris Bradshaw.

By the estimate of Hicks, Tatum dropped to 135 pounds at his sickest. Still, that trademark toughness never disappeared.

"I went to see him at the hospital," said Ron Ransom, a friend since college. "Here he is, under the covers. I'm looking at his face and all his hair and the mustache, and I'm seeing the warrior just chilling out."

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