GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Prayers and Advil weren't enough to save
Samkon Gado's cousin from what he can only assume was AIDS.
Now the Green Bay Packers running back wants to do something
He spent part of his offseason doing grunt work at a local
hospital, a step toward his goal of becoming a doctor and returning
to his homeland in Nigeria.
"I really just wanted to blend in. I wasn't doing it for show. I didn't want people to say, 'Oh, look at this Green Bay Packer working.' I really wanted the experience. And I'm going to do it again next year."
"I think that the problem that is going on in Africa is really
being overlooked," he said. "And I think it's kind of sad. ...
But I think when you just look at the need, I feel like it's too
hard to ignore."
Three years ago, Gado returned to Nigeria to visit family he
hadn't seen since moving to the United States at age 9. He met a
cousin who had just given birth despite being very sick. The father
had been kidnapped and was being held for ransom.
Gado and his family prayed over the woman and gave her whatever
medicine they were carrying. But three weeks after he returned to
the U.S., Gado received word she died. The family assumes
kidnappers killed the father and the baby was born with HIV.
But, as was the case with several cousins who died of AIDS-like
symptoms, that's just an educated guess. There aren't enough
clinics in Nigeria to properly diagnose the disease.
"Stories like that, that's just normal," Gado said. "That's
not even special."
Gado will continue to play football, but his offseason work at
Green Bay's Bellin Health hospital is no public relations stunt. He
didn't tell patients who he was as he pricked tricky veins to
capture blood samples or helped them go to the bathroom.
The experience reinforced something Gado has known since a high
school biology class piqued his curiosity: He was meant to practice
Gado took pre-med classes at Liberty, a Baptist university in
Virginia founded by the Rev. Jerry Falwell, and had a 3.66
Gado figured real-world experience was the next logical step.
But he didn't want his newfound stardom to get in the way, so he
"I really just wanted to blend in," Gado said. "I wasn't
doing it for show. I didn't want people to say, 'Oh, look at this
Green Bay Packer working.' I really wanted the experience. And I'm
going to do it again next year."
His cover eventually was blown. In a drug-induced haze, a man
coming out of surgery told his wife that the guy wearing scrubs
"She says, 'My husband swears that you're Samkon Gado and I'm
telling him that you're not, that you wouldn't be working here if
you were.' And he'd just gotten out of surgery, so this guy was
doped up," Gado said.
Gado fessed up. After the initial shock, the woman asked, "What
are you doing here?"
A little bit of everything, it turns out. His shift began at 5
a.m. and involved everything from measuring vital signs to helping
patients get out of bed. Drawing blood was "nerve-racking," Gado
said, but he notes that he had to hand the needle to the nurse only
once in more than a dozen attempts.
Helping patients use the bathroom? Awkward, but part of the job.
"I felt like whatever bedside manner I did have, I think I
improved on it," he said.
Improvement, no doubt, will be demanded as well by the Packers'
new coaching staff. Although Gado had three 100-yard rushing games
last season -- including 171 yards against Detroit -- he is
struggling to pick up the new offense. Coach Mike McCarthy offered
only lukewarm praise during last weekend's minicamp.
"He is experiencing some frustration," McCarthy said. "He's
going to keep working. He obviously has a lot of potential. He
needs to continue to get better."
Ahman Green and Najeh Davenport, whose injuries propelled Gado
into the lineup, will return this season. Gado won't complain if he
ends up second or third on the depth chart, but he isn't resigned
to the bench.
"I'll tell you what," he said. "I am going to fight for that