Former Lions exec Matt Millen is fighting amyloidosis, may need heart transplant

Former Detroit Lions president Matt Millen is fighting for his life. The 60-year old former player, executive, and broadcaster most known for early 2000's tenure in Detroit is dealing with amyloidosis, a rare disease that attacks the bodies organs and often evades diagnosis because it mimics other diseases. 

According to The MMQB's Peter King, Millen has lost 50 pounds in the last year while receiving chemotherapy to treat the disease, and may need a heart transplant. 

Millen, 60, has that pale-faced look you sometimes see in people deep into chemotherapy. The four-time Super Bowl-winning linebacker was noted for playing with intelligent abandon for the Raiders, Niners and Washington, but he doesn't do much with abandon these days. He just had his weekly chemo treatment the previous day, and he's surprised he's feeling up to doing as much as he's done on one of the first warm mornings of the year here. Millen's down around 50 pounds in the past year, chasing a cure for a disease called amyloidosis that is particularly evil: He needs debilitating chemotherapy now to fight amyloid, a rogue protein that attacks organs (his heart, in this case). Because the amyloid is attacking his heart, he'll eventually need a heart transplant to have a chance to live many more years.

Millen, using a football analogy to describe his situation, noted, "We're in the fourth quarter of a big football game. We're down 13. Playing defense. It's getting late. We need a stop. We need a big stop."

It took Millen a while to even be diagnosed with amyloidosis. He saw several doctors and had procedures to deal with other issues like a kidney stone and a non-malignant tumor in his chest. He was tested for things like severe acid reflux, lyme disease, and diseases in his liver and kidneys. Eventually, a team physician for the Eagles sent Millen to the Mayo Clinic, where Dr. Gary Lee found the definitive diagnosis. 

"So this is about a year ago," Millen said, per The MMQB. "I walked into his office, we sat down and we talked for about 15 to 20 minutes, and that's when he tells me he knows what I got and I'm not gonna like it. I'm like, How do you know that? You didn't even do a freakin' test on me. He says, 'I've been studying this disease for quite some time, amyloidosis. I'm looking at your carotid artery right now, it's pronounced. I'm looking at the muscles in your head, and they're deteriorated. Where there should be muscles around your eyes, you're getting more puffiness instead of muscle mass.' And I'm like, 'Way to read your keys man! That's a good linebacker!'"

It was discovered that the amyloid protein was embedded in Millen's bone marrow and had made its way into the walls of his heart, preventing the heart from functioning properly. The chemotherapy helps manage the symptoms but is not a cure. Eventually, Millen said, he will need a heart transplant. 

CBS Sports Writer

Jared Dubin is a New York lawyer and writer. He joined CBSSports.com in 2014 and has since spent far too much of his time watching film and working in spreadsheets. Full Bio

Our Latest Stories
    24/7 Scores, News, Highlights
    FREE ON ALL YOUR DEVICES