Wednesday, February 03, 1999

Payton, battling disease, needs new liver

The Associated Press

        ROSEMONT, Ill. — Walter Payton, gaunt, tearful and barely resembling the dashing, durable Chicago Bears Hall of Famer who rushed his way into the NFL record books, got to the point quickly on Tuesday:

        He has a rare liver disease and needs a transplant to live.

        “To the people that really care about me, just continue praying,” said the 44-year-old Payton, who choked up when he embraced his 17-year-old son, Jarrett.

        The disease, primary sclerosing cholangitis, afflicts just three in 100,000 people, said Payton's physician, Dr. Joseph Lagattuta. The cause of the disease, which blocks the bile ducts, is unknown, but isn't related to alcohol, steroids, hepatitis or immune deficiency, he said.

        Patients in Payton's condition survive an average of two years unless they receive a liver transplant, Lagattuta said.

        Asked if he was scared, the NFL's all-time rushing leader snapped: “Am I scared? Hell yeah, I'm scared. Wouldn't you be scared?”

        “But it's not in my hands anymore,” he added. “It's in God's hands.”

        Rumors about Payton's health spread last week after he appeared at a news conference where his son announced he would play college football for Miami. Payton said those rumors prompted his disclosure.

        Payton is being evaluated for a transplant at the Mayo Clinic.

        Lagattuta said 88 percent of people who receive a liver transplant are alive after a year, and the long-term survival rate is “very promising.” He said most patients can return to an active life if they receive a transplant.

        Selected to nine Pro Bowls and inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1993, the player known as “Sweetness” holds NFL career records for yards gained, 16,726, and carries, 3,838.


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