A rare ailment nearly cost Rahim Moore his left leg during the last NFL season.
So the Denver Broncos safety understood the urgency this month when he got a nighttime call from a team official. The family of a man with the same affliction, compartment syndrome, had reached out to him for words of encouragement.
Eager to help, Moore stunned the family by walking into the hospital half an hour later.
"Everybody was blown away when Rahim walked in," said Kim Winterfield, the aunt of Tyson Goulding, 35, a Denver man who suffered compartment syndrome during a 10K race and, like Moore, nearly lost his leg. "The compassion, the talking, the getting to the hospital in no time was unbelievable... We're just ordinary people."
For Moore, a former UCLA standout drafted in the second round by Denver in 2011, simply walking through those hospital doors brought back a flood of feelings from last November, when his career — and his life — dangled in the balance.
"It brought back memories," he said in a phone interview. "It was about 4 or 5 [in the morning] when I came in, and I remember my doctor told me, 'Rahim, if we'd waited until later in the morning, we'd have to amputate your leg. If you'd have waited until noon, you'd have passed away.' I couldn't believe it."
Acute compartment syndrome occurs when a muscle swells to a point that there is no more room to expand. Muscle compartments are closed and covered by an envelope of tough and relatively inelastic tissue. If there's enough bleeding or swelling in a muscle compartment, the pressure rises and potentially causes nerve damage. As blood backs up, the flow is cut off and the surrounding area is starved of nourishment. Eventually, cells begin to die as do the affected muscles.
"You have a matter of hours to act," said Dr. Neal ElAttrache, a sports medicine surgeon who did not operate on Moore but has treated the condition on rare occasions. "Generally speaking, you have six to eight hours until there's irreversible damage."
Moore suffered the syndrome during a Sunday night victory over Kansas City on Nov. 17, even though he hadn't sustained a traumatic leg injury. He felt fine when he woke up that day, but noticed a strange tingling in his lower left leg during warmups, a sensation that intensified during the early part of the game and eventually forced him to the bench in the second quarter.
"I felt like I had a little baby leg," he said. "It was like a weakness, a sense that my leg was dying on me. My first series I did OK. Second series was good. By the third or fourth series, my leg started giving out on me. I was like, 'Lord, why is this happening to me?'"
There was pain, and eventually a troubling numbness.
"I couldn't feel my toes or anything," he said. "You know how your leg falls asleep and you can't feel anything because it's numb? Imagine that, but 10 times worse."
The pain returned with a vengeance that night, and Moore's girlfriend drove him to Sky Ridge Medical Center. There, a doctor inserted a needle into his leg to test the pressure. The situation was urgent. Moore was in surgery minutes later.
Now, fully recovered, Moore barely notices the 13-inch scar that runs down the outside of his left calf. He has to twist his leg to see it.
"Honestly, I really don't even look at it that much," he said. "My mind is off it now. It's not like you can see it that easy, not like looking at my hand or something."
Months of intensive rehabilitation have returned him to where he was when the injury occurred, and beyond. He thinks he's on the verge of a breakout season, on track to become an elite safety.
"Not to sound braggadocios," he said, "but my range has improved, my tackling skills have improved, my knowledge of the game and my fundamentals have improved… The way I'm flying around, I'm not getting from Point A to Point B, I'm getting from Point A to Point D."
He was certainly speedy in getting to the hospital to visit Goulding, a devoted Broncos fan who suffered compartment syndrome, lost a major leg muscle and since has undergone five surgeries.
"I prayed with him and told him some of the things I did," Moore said. "I told him the great thing about it is, no matter what the circumstances are, you're living. I told him to keep in touch with me. I want to bless him and his family to come to a couple games, so he can see how I overcame my obstacles and show him that he can do the same."
Goulding's aunt is amazed by Moore's compassion. She had called a Denver TV station, which put her in touch with Patrick Smyth, the Broncos' director of media relations. Smyth immediately contacted Moore at about 9:45 on a weeknight, and Moore was at the hospital minutes later.
"By 10:10, Rahim met my niece at the hospital, formed a prayer circle, and he said, 'You're going to come out stronger on the other side,'" Winterfield said. "Those words still stick with Tyson."