The former football player decided to switch to medicine after doctors helped save his child’s life.

After playing four seasons in the National Football League, Simon Fraser decided to trade in his pads for scrubs and enroll in Ohio University’s Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine.

The former NFL defensive end, who played with the Cleveland Browns and Atlanta Falcons, as well as Ohio State, said he decided to switch career paths after doctors saved his newborn twins’ lives.

He found out his wife, Mallory, was pregnant with twins, Brynn and Mia, in 2008 while he was playing for the Falcons. Ten weeks into her pregnancy, the two were rushed to the emergency room when she began to have complications. When they arrived, the doctors told the couple that one of the twins had ruptured its amniotic sac — a bag of fluids that helps babies grow and develop in the womb — and had almost no chance of surviving.

“At that moment, my life had stopped,” Simon said. “I didn’t think about football; I didn’t think about everything else. I was focused in on the health of my wife and two children.”

When the football season ended, the couple relocated to Columbus. The babies were still growing, but doctors were concerned about their health. Mallory then went into labor 26 weeks into her pregnancy, 14 weeks premature.

“That was a huge whirlwind in our lives,” he said. “After the delivery, they were put in the neonatal care unit, and I wanted to know what was going to happen and what was the treatment. I became infatuated with the care that they were receiving.”

It was then that Simon said he found a new calling as a doctor.

“After a couple weeks of pondering and praying, I decided that I had been given the ultimate gift,” he said. “The doctors saved my children’s lives, and I felt like I couldn’t repay the doctors, but I could pay it forward by going into medicine.”

After deciding to retire from the NFL, he signed up for classes at Columbus State Community College to fulfill all science class requirements before heading to medical school.

Simon was accepted to the OU-HCOM in 2011 and served as the Student Government Association president during his second year as a medical student.

“He’s (also) been trying to be a leader on the national scene for the national student government,” said Kenneth Johnson, dean of OU-HCOM. “He’s a truly outstanding student and has continued to reach out to me in ways that he could be helpful.”

While in medical school, Simon said he’s had to balance education and family life. He credits Mallory with making that balance possible.

“We ended up rooming together during second year,” said Nicholas Barnes, a fourth-year medical student and a good friend of Simon.. “He would stay with me during the week and then go home to be with his family over the weekend.”

Johnson said Simon’s leadership set the stage for his class of medical students, a precedent that he thinks still continues today.

“He’s one of the most remarkable people I’ve ever met,” Barnes said. “I’ve always been impressed with his ability to balance student government, school and family.”

Before joining the NFL and OU-HCOM, Simon was a student at the Ohio State University where he received a bachelor’s degree in sociology and criminology in 2005. He was also a part of the 2002 team that won the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) National Championship.

“I had initially entered college thinking about medical school, but I was a young kid, and my mind was focused on athletics,” he said. “My mentality was that I was going to play in the NFL for 10-plus years, and I wouldn’t have to focus on life after football for a while. It was easy justification to say I’m going to put medical school on the backburner.”

Though football and medicine don’t have too many similarities, he said the team mentality is about the same for both.

“In football you have to work as a team to accomplish your goal and you also have to work as a team to provide the best medical care for your patients,” Simon said. “All these strong characteristics that make good physicians are also what make great athletes and just great people in general.”

He is currently working at Doctors Hospital in Columbus as a part of his fourth-year clinical rotations.

“It’s been a long journey, and I’m looking forward to the next phase, which is residency,” he said. “It seems like just yesterday that I got the phone call that I was accepted to medical school.”

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