In 1960, wide receiver Gail Cogdill was elected Rookie of the Year in a rough-and-tumble old-school NFL. In 1962, he was the Detroit Lions' most valuable player. Now it's 2012 and, he says, he can only remain active for "two or three hours a day and then I have to lay down."
The reason? A failing heart that currently functions at just 18% of its optimal capacity. Despite a six-way bypass surgery and other operations over the past several years, if Gail doesn't act soon he won't live long.
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Doctors recently recommended he get a mechanical heart transplant, which would require he remain near a battery most of the time and most likely keep him alive for a maximum of just a few years. At 75 years old, Gail says doctors told him he's ineligible for an regular heart transplant.
Cogdill and his wife Dian, with whom he's raised five children, considered the mechanical heart option until a former teammate told him about an experimental stem cell procedure that could prove more effective. The more they researched it, the more it appealed to them.
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But a problem arose: money.
Gail's insurance won't cover the stem cell operation because it hasn't been approved in the United States, so the Cogdills are looking at an out-of-pocket cost of $45,000 for treatment and travel. The Cogdills have already drained their retirement savings by about $500,000 over the years, Gail says, because of his heart problems and operations on his knee, ankle, hip and shoulder as a result of his hard-knocks NFL days.
"We've used just about all our savings and everything we had," Gail told Mashable.
In late July, Dian turned to a fundraising option that has gained increased prominence in recent months by starting an online crowd-sourced donation campaign to help cover the cost of Gail's stem cell treatment. Prominent IndieGoGo campaigns this year raised $600,000 for a bullied school bus monitor and $165,000 for victims of a shooting last month at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin.
The Cogdills are hoping to raise $35,000 through the website GoFundMe to help them travel to Nassau, Bahamas, next month and pay for the procedure. The plan is for doctors there to extract stem cells from his blood, send them to Israel for treatment then reinsert the strengthened cells into his heart to bring the organ back up to about 40% capacity.
The campaign has so far raised nearly $18,000 and the Cogdills hope to meet their ultimate goal by Oct. 7. Donors have been touched both by their own experiences with heart disease and Gail's status as a former NFL star. "I remember watching you play for the lions at Tiger Stadium," wrote one. "All the best of luck!!!"
Gail says he hopes his campaign will help raise awareness about the other lingering health problems that come from careers built on a violent sport -- especially for players of his generation, who joined the league before health concerns were widely discussed.
"People tell me, 'Gail, you knew what the hell you were getting into when you played football,'" he told Mashable. "No we didn't. We weren't educated, the doctors and trainers weren't educated. We didn't have the knowledge we have now. We didn't know what were were getting into and neither did the NFL."
This story originally published on Mashable here.