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Volume 23 No. 24
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Agent wins a tough battle against COVID-19

For the more than nine days veteran NFL agent Paul Sheehy was on a ventilator fighting for his life against COVID-19, the nightmares kept coming.

“They say you don’t know anything when you are in that state — you’re out,” Sheehy, 56, said in a telephone interview last week. “For me, I didn’t know what was going on when I was under, but I knew something was going on. I had crazy nightmares that whole period of time. It was crazy. It was bad.”

But Sheehy, who describes himself as more spiritual than religious, wasn’t always dreaming. Somehow, while sedated and intubated, he had the presence of mind to fight back. 

Paul Sheehy says wife, Sheila, has been “a warrior” in caring for him throughout his illness.
Photo: courtesy of paul sheehy
Paul Sheehy says wife, Sheila, has been “a warrior” in caring for him throughout his illness.
Photo: courtesy of paul sheehy
Paul Sheehy says wife, Sheila, has been “a warrior” in caring for him throughout his illness.
Photo: courtesy of paul sheehy

“At some point, I basically started doing my own rosary in my head,” Sheehy said. “I had that foresight, I just did the Hail Mary over and over in my head, so either it went away or I somehow slept,” he said.

Sheehy emerged COVID-19 negative, after spending 25 days in the hospital, on July 20.

While he was battling the virus, news got out in the NFL community. Longtime Denver Broncos reporter Mike Klis tweeted about it and former NFL player Louis Riddick, a longtime client and friend, posted on Instagram about his conversation with Sheehy in the hospital, after he was removed from the ventilator and awoke. “He was on the brink of death,” Riddick wrote, “And were it not for his faith, fortitude, doctors and the strength/care of his awesome wife Sheila, I wouldn’t have been able to talk to him on the phone, like I did a few hours ago.” 

Sheehy said last week he was overwhelmed and humbled from the outpouring he has received from the tight-knit NFL community. “I still get emotional thinking about it,” he said. “Just hundreds and hundreds of team people, retired clients, current clients, players I don’t represent, agents that I’ve known for years. This is my 32nd year in the business and literally hundreds of people in the NFL community reached out with prayers and support.” 

Sheehy co-founded ProStar Sports in 1988 to represent NFL players, and has increasingly been representing coaches. The agency now represents about 30 NFL players, including Los Angeles Rams punter Johnny Hekker, Minnesota Vikings punter Britton Colquitt and free-agent outside linebacker Cameron Wake, as well as 50 coaches and front office personnel, including Dave Toub, Kansas City Chiefs assistant head coach and special teams coordinator, and Chris Tabor, Chicago Bears special teams coordinator.

The agency didn’t lose any clients during Sheehy’s illness. In fact, it gained two, free-agent wide receiver Deddrick Thomas and Washington Football Team wide receiver Johnathan “Jay-Jay” Johnson, said Warren Schmidt, one of Sheehy’s partners.

Schmidt said he and the third partner, Jon Baker, fielded calls while Sheehy was in the hospital from nearly every NFL team. “It was really awe inspiring,” Schmidt said.

When doctors first removed Sheehy’s ventilator tubes, he could barely speak. But two weeks after being out of the hospital, his voice was strong and he said it’s getting stronger every day. 

“I’m alive,” Sheehy said, adding that is what he’s told everyone who’s asked how he is doing. “But I truly mean that. I am so thankful and grateful to be alive. It’s like nothing I’ve ever gone through.”  

It all started Friday, June 12, a couple of days after Sheehy came home to Denver after a trip to Arizona. He felt feverish. But the next two days, Saturday and Sunday, he felt “totally fine,” he said. On Monday, back in the office again, he spiked a fever and had flu-like symptoms. It went downhill from there.

Longtime client Louis Riddick was among the many who checked on the family during the ordeal.
Photo: courtesy of paul sheehy
Longtime client Louis Riddick was among the many who checked on the family during the ordeal.
Photo: courtesy of paul sheehy
Longtime client Louis Riddick was among the many who checked on the family during the ordeal.
Photo: courtesy of paul sheehy

“I never really had a cough,” Sheehy said. But he had extreme fatigue, body aches and high fevers. By June 18, Sheehy and his wife got tested. He tested positive. Paul says he owes his life to his wife. “She’s been a warrior,” he said.

Sheila Sheehy began taking care of him at home. “His temperature was really bad, but we thought we could control it,” she said. She monitored his oxygen level and temperature and “it just started snowballing on me.”

His temperatures hit 103, 105, 104, and the fever never stopped. On the morning of June 25, it got really bad, she said. His oxygen monitor read 87, then 84, then 85. His temperature registered 106.

“That morning was probably the worst day of my life,” she said. She drove her husband to the hospital instead of calling an ambulance, in part because she was afraid she might never see him again. Like all coronavirus patients, he wasn’t allowed any visitors.

“The night of the 26th they called me at 2 a.m. and they said, ‘We are out of options. He’s now on a ventilator,’” Sheila Sheehy said. 

Sheila said she started crying, talking to the nurse. “I said, ‘Throw me a bone. Give me something good.’ And she said, ‘I can’t. I can’t.’ She said, ‘The only thing I can say right now is we are trying to make him comfortable.’”

Paul Sheehy said he went into the hospital with a plan. “I remember going into this thinking, no matter what, don’t go on the vent, the results are rarely good.”

When the doctor told him they were putting him on a ventilator, he resisted, telling the doctors “No, no, no!” But at that point, the doctors were telling him, not asking, he related. 

Sheila Sheehy said a doctor called and told her her husband “crashed,” was critical and was being transferred to the ICU. The doctor asked her permission to give him the anti-viral drug remdesivir, as well as a steroid and a blood transfusion containing plasma from someone who had recovered from COVID-19. 

Since he’s recovered, the Sheehys said doctors told them had he gotten the virus in March, he probably would not have survived because those treatments were not available. “I told Paul — we were sitting out on the deck — ‘We got lucky. We got so lucky.’” 

Paul, meanwhile, is getting his energy back and told his wife he’s thinking about coaching — he coaches a local football team. “He wants to go out there and coach and I’m like, ‘Yeah, no,’” Sheila said. 

As this column went to press, Paul Sheehy sent a text. “Hi Liz. One favor. Please mention how great the doctors and nurses were at Swedish Medical Center in Denver, in the COVID-19 ICU unit, 4th floor E-Pod. They saved my life.”

 

Liz Mullen can be reached at lmullen@sportsbusinessjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter @SBJLizMullen.