What happened to Alex Smith? The story of his broken leg and a ‘miracle’ NFL comeback two years later

Alex Smith’s return to an NFL field could be considered a “miracle.”

That’s what Washington Football Team physician Dr. Robin West told ESPN earlier this year. When Smith suffered a compound fracture with further complications in 2018, it looked like the former No. 1 pick’s NFL career might be done. Instead, he rehabbed for nearly two years and dealt with 17 surgeries in order to play in the NFL once more. In 2020, Smith has gotten into two games so far for the Washington Football Team.

Here’s a look back at Smith’s comeback trail.

What was Alex Smith’s injury?

On Nov. 18, 2018, Smith was tackled in the backfield by the Texans. His right leg was caught at an awkward angle, and Smith suffered a compound fracture that broke both the tibia and fibula in his right leg. 

Things were complicated for Smith as he worked on recovering from the injury due to an infection of flesh-eating bacteria after Smith’s initial surgery. Following that first procedure to address the compound fracture, Smith needed 16 more surgeries before his leg could be fully on the way to recovery.

Even after returning to the field, Smith still has to wear a special titanium brace to protect his leg after he lost lots of tissue throughout the surgeries.

How Alex Smith is ‘very much lucky to be alive’

Earlier in 2020, Smith told ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” that he’s “very much lucky to be alive.”

A few days after Smith’s initial surgery, a flesh-eating bacteria took hold and caused immense problems. The Washington team physician, Dr. Robin West, was with Smith at the time. According to ESPN, West said: “We’re doing the best we can. And right now, our first priority is we’re going to save his life. And then we’re going to do our best to save his leg. And anything beyond that is a miracle.”

It was the infection that put Smith’s life at risk. As a reaction to the infection, Smith was septic, meaning he was releasing a lot of chemicals into his blood to try and combat it. The chemicals could have led to possible organ damage. If the medical professionals couldn’t clear up the infection, they were planning to amputate Smith’s right leg above the knee.

Smith had to undergo a muscle transfer and microvascular surgery to further address the infection, per ESPN, and more than 10 additional surgeries were needed to get everything under control. Smith wasn’t cleared by his medical team to return to the field until July 2020, about 20 months after the initial injury.

Alex Smith comeback timeline

Nov. 18, 2018 – Smith suffers a compound fracture against the Texans, breaking both the tibia and fibula in his right leg.

Late Nov., 2018 – Smith has a bacterial infection in his right leg after the initial surgery. It requires consideration of amputation and actions to save Smith’s life. Smith would have 16 more surgeries after the procedure on the day of the injury.

Sept. 23, 2019 – A video of Smith walking without crutches is posted on social media. 

July 24, 2020 – Smith is cleared by his medical team to return to the field.

July 27, 2020 – Washington places Smith on the Physically Unable to Perform list.

Aug. 16, 2020 – Washington activates Smith, although it takes it slowly with him during training camp.

Oct. 11, 2020 – After Dwayne Haskins’ benching, Smith takes over as Kyle Allen’s backup quarterback. On Oct. 11, Allen leaves with an injury and Smith enters the game. Smith went 9-for-17 for 37 yards.

Nov. 8, 2020 – Allen leaves Washington’s game with a serious leg injury, and Smith enters in his second relief action of the season.

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