From the sports editor: Burrows gets a second shot at life

Dean Burrows, shown above before his 100-pound weight loss and below afterwards, said his illness crystalized the young coach’s beliefs and his approach to life in general. Delaware State News file photos

Dean Burrows drops to his knees and starts pounding the sofa with his fist.

That’s how much pain he was in — that’s what he was doing — as he waited in a Christiana Hospital waiting room last May 16.

Just a short while earlier, his mom was racing the Wesley College men’s basketball coach to the hospital. He’d called her after the pain in his gut had rendered him almost unable to move.

“She’s sitting at a red light and I’m like, ‘You’ve got to go,’” said Burrows. “I think I’m dying.”

The 39-year-old wasn’t exaggerating.

Burrows’ insides were a mess. For months he had ignored gallstones — the size of golf balls — “beating the living hell” out of his pancreas.

“My intestines and everything were lifted, swollen, battered up, bruised,” he said.

Along with acute pancreatitis, his blood sugar was over 700, he was in kidney failure and his body was septic.

Doctors told Burrows’ wife, Stefanie, that he had only a 20-percent chance of surviving. And this was only two days after Wesley football coach Mike Drass died suddenly.

Burrows doesn’t remember a thing from the next four days, which he spent in the ICU.

Wesley assistant coach Mike Faber got in to see him and later told Burrows that he looked like a wax mannequin.

Burrows survived the ordeal, of course, and coached the Wolverines this past winter.

But it left him a completely different man.

The father of four lost 100 pounds from his 295-pound frame. And he’s now diabetic, having to monitor his food and give himself insulin injections every 12 hours.

More than that, though, the experience crystalized the young coach’s beliefs and his approach to life in general.

Before he makes this next statement, Burrows says he knows some people might think he’s a little crazy for saying it.

But it’s how he feels.

“I’m willing to die out there (coaching),” he finally says. “I don’t expect anybody to understand that. I’m at peace.

“I do what I love to do. I’m blessed and fortunate and privileged to do this every day. … Being out there with the guys, there ain’t no way I’m going to ever miss that. You read about coaches who retire and they’re coaching in their 70s and 80s and then they pass.

“I get that. I completely get that at 39.”

A long battle

Burrows’ physical ordeal hardly ended with his two-week hospital stay in May.

For a while, he was afraid to get out of bed every day because he was so unsteady on his feet.

There were 14 stairs down to get to his recliner.

“I couldn’t walk,” Burrows says. “Being competitive, I made it into a game. Little by little, day by day, ‘OK, this is what we’re going to try to do today.’”

On Aug. 10 Burrows had his gall bladder removed in a three-hour operation that the surgeon said was one of the worst of that kind he’d ever done. Burrows hemorrhaged during surgery, a condition that might have killed him.

Burrows said the doctors also cleared him for cancer — and he didn’t even know he was being tested for it.

Three days after the surgery, Burrows was back in his Dover office, just so he could feel more like his old self again.

He wasn’t, though.

On a two-game Wesley road trip to Alabama in mid-December, Burrows was suddenly overwhelmingly exhausted.

During the first game, Burrows really couldn’t stand up straight. Then, before a game the next day, one of his players found the coach asleep on the floor of the locker room.

“Tolu Babalola comes in and he’s like, ‘Coach, are you alive?’” said Burrows. “He’s over there like shaking me.”

Regular testing for various things are just a part of his life now. He has to keep things like raisins around in case his blood sugar drops and he goes through 100 ounces of water during a game because his mouth becomes dry.

On the other hand, Burrows knows he’s lucky to still be alive.

When he visits his surgeon, Burrows said the doctor’s assistant always laughs when she sees him.

“She’s like, ‘It’s amazing that you’re still here,” said Burrows. “You kind of feel like you’re playing with house money.”

Yet somehow, despite the beating his body has taken, Burrows feels like he’s capable of doing more now physically.

Certainly, losing 100 pounds is part of it. But so is focusing more on his health.

“I’m 39 going on 40 and I feel like 18, 19 or 20 years old again,” said Burrows. “I swear to God. I’m out there with my guys, I’m beating them in sprints.

“I wanted to be in the best shape of my life by the time I was 40. And the Good Lord took me through it to get me to this point.”

A lesson learned

In 2011, Burrows was giving a test to his history class at St. Thomas More when he saw that his brother had called him some 30 times.

“I texted him saying, ‘Dude, I’m giving a test, I can’t answer the phone,’” Burrows remembered. “He’s like, ‘Call me. It’s Dad.’”

Burrows’s dad, also named Dean, was working on a bridge project in Pennsylvania.

Someone had accidentally not secured one spot on the bridge. The elder Burrows fell to his death. Burrows’ brother was the one who found him.

Burrows’ dad was only 58 and, his son says, still in great shape.

“My dad was invincible, my dad was Super Man,” said Burrows. “By no means did I ever think I was going to get that call that Dad was dead.

“You think that would have gotten me to open up more and realize things. But it didn’t really strike a chord until I went through it.”

When he was still in the hospital, Burrows said he did a lot of praying. He made a promise that, if he got out of there, he’d simply try to be “more.”

Burrows said he’s tried to be a better father and husband, but also a better boss to his assistants and a coach to his players. He’s even tried to be more involved with student activities on campus.

He talked to a Wesley biology class about what he’s been through.

“I’m better mentally, physically and spiritually then I’ve ever been in my entire life,” said Burrows. “I think, if you ask my guys, they’ll say they’ve noticed a difference. I’m in the weight room with them.

“I was passionate before but I’m even more a ball of fire and more hellbent on making sure that things are being done the right way.”

There was a beat-up, scrap of paper that they found in the elder Dean Burrows’ wallet after he died. It was a list of reminders for how he wanted to live life.

Apparently, he’d been carrying it with him for a long time.

His son now has a framed copy of it on his Wesley College office,

The note said things like “Be humble, praise people. … work hard, earn your money … jump in, don’t be timid … don’t take ‘no’ for an answer. … “

Now, after fighting for his life, the younger Burrows wants to do something with it.

As grueling as his health problems were and continue to be, they’ve lit a fire under him.

“It’s realizing that we all have more that we’re capable of giving and being,” said Burrows. “We only get one shot at this and I’m lucky that I got one — if not more. It’s not taking any of it for granted.”

Odds & ends

• Wesley College has found a 10th game for this year’s football schedule. The Wolverines will play at Endicott in Massachusetts on Sept. 21.

Wesley now opens the season with non-conference contests at Franklin Pierce, Delaware Valley and Endicott before starting its NJAC slate. The Wolverines will play only four home games this fall.

• Former Cape Henlopen High football coach George Glenn recently announced that he’s retiring after eight years as the chief of staff and director of football operations at Coastal Carolina. The longtime Delaware high school coach helped the program transition to the NCAA Division I FBS level a couple years ago.

After coaching Salesianum for 17 years, Glenn led Cape to 25 wins in four seasons, finishing with 144 total victories.

• This spring marked the second time that Cape Henlopen has swept both the boys’ and girls’ lacrosse state titles in the same season. The other year was 2014.

• After Cape’s boys beat all-boys Catholic school Salesianum, 12-10, for the lacrosse title on Thursday, its student section chanted, ‘Public school.’

• Dover residents Riley Hickox and Grace Mercer were both members of Padua’s girls’ soccer Division I DIAA Division state championship team this spring.

Both juniors, Mercer and Hickox were both named second-team All-Staters.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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