When Tavon Rooks left the Chiefs practice early on Aug. 17, coach Andy Reid said it was due to shortness of breath.
It turned out to be a serious scare, as Rooks, 25, was later found to be having a heart attack.
“When I felt that pressure in my chest, man, I knew something was wrong,” Rooks said. “I tried to fight it — not going to lie to you. You know, you go over to that (injury) tent, and your chances of making the team are slim to none.”
Rooks, a sixth-round pick by the New Orleans Saints out of Kansas State in 2014, was signed this spring as a free agent and was battling for a backup offensive tackle spot with the Chiefs.
That is, until teammate Marcus Reed encouraged him to seek medical attention from the training staff — an act of friendship that Rooks remains grateful for, since doctors told him the heart attack could have been fatal without treatment.
“It was like somebody was sitting on my chest,” Rooks said. “I probably would have been dead, man. It’s scary.”
Rooks said he checked into Mosaic Life Cafe in St. Joseph that day and was diagnosed with an acute myocardial infarction, which was caused by a blood clot in the left anterior descending artery.
“And I’m just sitting there crying, because you don’t know what’s next,” Rooks said. “They’re talking about opening up your chest, and what options they have so it won’t happen (again). Seven days, man, you just think about that.”
Rooks said he remained there through the following Sunday before he and his girlfriend, Molly Viger, returned to their home in Arizona to continue his recovery.
But before Rooks left St. Joseph, he said several Chiefs stopped by to offer encouragement, including his mentor, guard Ben Grubbs, and general manager John Dorsey.
“It kind of puts things in perspective,” offensive coordinator Doug Pederson said. “It humbles you a little bit. Life is more important than football sometimes, and we get caught up in it, and sometimes we lose sight of that. It hit me that way that hey, you’ve just got to take a step back and say: ‘You know what? Life is good, and we pray for him and his help, and hopefully everything is good for him.’”
Rooks was ultimately waived with a nonfootball illness designation on Sept. 1, which means the Chiefs technically had no obligation to pay his extensive hospital bills.
But one of Rooks’ agents, Richard Kopelman, said the team has ensured that Rooks can continue to afford medical insurance, though not directly paying his bills.
“I appreciate that,” said Rooks, who was also grateful for the ongoing support of Kopelman and his other agent, Vijay Natarajan of KLASS Sports. “I cannot thank them enough for helping me with this situation.”
As Rooks continues his recovery, he hasn’t thought about reviving his football career, though he has thought about getting into coaching as a way of giving back to the community.
But for now he is just worried about getting healthy so he can continue to support Molly and their 1-year-old daughter, Londyn.
“God gave me a second chance at life,” Rooks said, “and I’m happy about that.”