— SAN FRANCISCO - Percy Harvin was the NFL's 2009 Offensive Rookie of the Year after helping Florida to two national championships in three seasons in Gainesville. He was the Vikings' second leading receiver last year with 60 catches and became the only rookie in NFL history to produce at least 750 receiving yards (756) and 1,000 yards returning kickoffs and/or punts (1,156).
Eric Sugarman calls it "the riddle they can't solve:" what triggers Percy Harvin's migraines and how to best manage them? Sugarman recounted what he calls one of the two scariest episodes he's dealt with in his 14 years in the NFL.
Harvin was preparing to field a punt and was looking up into a bright white sky when he got lightheaded and a migraine was triggered. He immediately went inside and was vomiting. The team doctors were actually on site because it was still technically training camp (doctors aren't at a team facility full time during the season) and they gave Harvin medication. He stayed in Sugarman's office for about 15 minutes, cooling off, hydrating. He wanted to go outside to get some fresh air, and said he wanted to get back with the team. Sugarman said Harvin looked better and told him to just stand on the sideline.
But within five minutes of being back outside, Harvin took a knee, vomited and passed out. Sugarman said Harvin did not lose consciousness or his pulse and didn't stop breathing. He was unresponsive but his life was not in danger. Sugarman, who is also trained as a first responder, called 911. He didn't think Harvin suffered a seizure or a stroke, but wanted to be cautious. His vital signs did not change. The ambulance arrived in seven minutes and by the time the paramedics arrived Harvin was awake but confused. He was combative (which Sugarman said is normal) about getting in the ambulance but was taken to a local hospital.
Once in the hospital, Harvin was hooked up to a heart monitor, given an IV and standard care. He underwent tests to eliminate a variety of issues: Was oxygen cut off to his brain? Did he have a heart problem? A seizure? According to Sugarman, these possibilities were eliminated. But he was kept overnight for precautionary reasons because he was unresponsive for a relatively long period of time (seven to 10 minutes). Sugarman said Harvin remained at the hospital for seven hours; Viokings coach Brad Childress was on site for about six. Teammates Visanthe Shiancoe, Adrian Peterson, Sidney Rice, Greg Lewis, as well as coaches George Stewart (wide receivers) and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell all visited Harvin, who was conscious the entire time.
A big concern remained: Why did Harvin collapse? One doesn't generally pass out from a migraine.
Sugarman said that the Vikings medical staff is confident it knows why Harvin passed out and how to prevent another episode. Sugarman said Harvin did not pass out as a direct result of the migraine but rather as a complication of other factors, which may include an adverse reaction to medication, dehydration and low blood pressure. Sugarman, who spoke carefully because of privacy issues, said that Harvin has tried so many different medications that the treatment becomes like a puzzle — trying different pieces before finding one that fits. He will likely need to be on medication for life for which doctors must find the proper formula.
I asked Sugarman if Harvin had gone off or changed his medication when he was home and away from the team and he said no, that Harvin was monitored every day because they felt that the grandmother's death (coupled with the passing of a friend of Harvin's) triggered anxiety and hence, the migraines.
Last December, NBC first reported that Harvin was going to the Mayo Clinic for evaluation. He continues to be treated there by Dr. J.D Barttleson, one of the country's leading experts on migraines. Sugarman said that since Harvin was drafted by the Vikings last year he has seen approximately 20 doctors — neurologists, cardiologists, internists. Then there are nutritionists, physical therapists, acupuncturists and chiropractors. (Not to mention the stacks of letters and up to 60 calls the team receives on a daily basis from fans with remedies). Harvin visited more specialists during the weekend. Sugarman said he's remaining in communication with the player and left four trainers behind in Minneapolis as well.
Sugarman said that when Harvin returned to the team on Friday he wanted to work out but he wasn't allowed. However, before the team left Minneapolis Saturday, Harvin lifted weights, did some cardio and broke a sweat. He did not make the trip to San Francisco due to the long flight and because it was too close to the episode during which he passed out. But Sugarman said that from a medical perspective, Harvin was normal and could've played against the 49ers.
The Vikings remain conservative and will still conduct more follow up tests next week although Sugarman and Childress both anticipate that Harvin will be practicing. As for the immediate future, Sugarman emphasized this isn't like the player has a torn ACL and can be rehabbed normally.
"This is a very trying illness for everyone," said Sugarman. The key is that they must attack the migraine the minute Harvin gets a symptom — he has been instructed to call the team immediately and they've given him a written set of protocols to follow at the first sign of trouble. Sugarman summed it up best: "this is going to be a lifelong fight."