By Chris Emma–
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (CBS) — When Bears coach John Fox was on the phone Monday morning speaking to Kristen Miller, the wife of injured tight end Zach Miller, he was pleasantly surprised when the phone was handed over. It was the voice of Miller, who was still upset the league had overturned what was initially ruled a touchdown catch of his in a loss to the Saints on Sunday.
Miller was in good spirits Monday after a hellacious experience. On that reversed touchdown, Miller’s left leg bent in reverse and left him with a torn popliteal artery and likely ligament damage. He underwent emergency vascular surgery on Sunday night in New Orleans, a procedure that involved removing a vein from his right leg and replacing the tear in the left leg.
Miller is expected to undergo an MRI to further evaluate the status of his left leg, which has yet to receive a full diagnosis while the artery was the utmost concern. His blood flow in the left leg is considered encouraging to doctors, Fox said, and he has a good pulse and warmth in the leg and foot.
“I’m not saying he’s out of the woods by any stretch, but it’s as good as can be expected at this point,” Fox said, relaying information provided from New Orleans. “I’d appreciate if you keep him in your thoughts and prayers.”
Miller was joined by his wife and father at the hospital, Fox said. The Bears also left a medical presence in New Orleans along with the team of vascular doctors still monitoring his situation.
The Bears held a team meeting Monday morning to explain the latest on Miller’s health, after an ESPN report initially broke news of the concerns to his artery. The Bears released a statement early Monday afternoon confirming that Miller had underwent vascular surgery. Miller will remain in New Orleans for an extended period of time due to travel issues caused by the injury, Fox said.
Bears doctors were quick in identifying the potential artery issues for Miller, who was rushed in for an evaluation and the procedure Sunday night.
After a battery of tests Monday, Miller’s leg is considered stable and showing positive signs in the view of the doctors.
“They feel good about where he is right now,” Fox said.
Fox and the Bears have spent their Monday focused first on the health of Miller, despite a 10-game suspension issued to linebacker Jerrell Freeman and game tape to review. Fox has received calls from across the league checking in on Miller’s health, including from Jacksonville, where he spent four years with the Jaguars.
Miller joined the Bears in 2014 but suffered a Lizfranc injury during the preseason, which sidelined him for the year. His career up until 2015 had been derailed by injuries. In 2011, he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury. The next preseason came a torn Achilles and calf. In 2013, he suffered a concussion and was released by the Buccaneers. The Lizfranc injury followed in an opportunity with the Bears.
Despite the injury history, Bears general manager Ryan Pace stuck with his belief in Miller, whom he inherited from Phil Emery and the previous regime. In 2015, Miller posted 34 receptions and five touchdowns while emerging late in the season, but he missed the finale with a toe injury.
Miller returned to the Bears on a two-year deal, posting 47 receptions in 10 games during the 2016 season before suffering a broken foot that ended his season. With increased competition at tight end this season, Miller again returned and emerged as the Bears’ top target. He had posted 20 receptions prior to Sunday’s injury.
Miller has earned a tremendous deal of respect around the league for his perseverance and positive spirit through a career filled with injuries. That has been certain in the aftermath of a horrific injury that threatened more than his career.
“He’s just a great dude,” Fox said. “He’s a leader. His teammates look up to him. He’s very, very smart. I call him quality control just because he helps people in the heat of battle on the field, and those are the kind of guys you do need. His teammates rally around him and so do coaches.”