Heisman Trophy Winner Turned Christian Minister Battles Rare Disorder

Danny Wuerffel, who won the 1996 Heisman Trophy while playing for the University of Florida and later joined a Christian mission, was diagnosed with a rare nervous and is now receiving outpatient treatment.

Wuerffel, 37, has contracted Guillain-Barre syndrome, a serious disorder that occurs when the body’s defense system mistakenly attacks part of the nervous system and can potentially lead to paralysis.

The former NFL quarterback began feeling ill during a retreat in late May in Colorado for Desire Street Ministries, a Christian charitable organization he joined while a member of the New Orleans Saints, according to The Gainesville Sun. He recovered from the stomach virus, but began to lose the feeling in his legs and arms during a visit to his mission in Montgomery, Ala.

The 37-year-old was initially hospitalized in Montgomery and later transferred to Birmingham, but is now receiving outpatient treatment at a location that the family would like to remain private, Wuerffel’s spokeswoman Sara Pace said in a statement. “He expects to make a full recovery.”

“Fortunately, an early diagnosis identified the disease, permitting swift medical treatment,” said Luder Whitlock, board chair of Desire Street Ministries, in a statement this week. “Consequently, his GBS specialist expects a full recovery. Meanwhile, Danny has asked me to express his appreciation for the prayers, love and support he has received during this time.”

Though ill, Wuerffel, who has three children, is in high spirits and sensitive to God’s voice. “It puts life into perspective, doesn’t it?” The New York Times quoted him as saying Thursday. The former quarterback is able to stand, but feels weakness in his legs and is having sporadic headaches.

He said he had received many phone calls, e-mails and text messages of support and it could be another month before he returned to work.

On the Facebook page of Wuerffel’s charity, many Christians have assured him of prayers for his complete recovery. “Good luck Danny you will be in my prayers and I know God will keep you safe and sound. You have been such an inspiration to so many with your good heart and deeds, that you will be rewarded with good health. God Bless,” reads a message by one Patricia Hamilton from Texas.

At the Heisman Trophy award function in 1996, Wuerffel gave “all the glory and praise” to God and told the audience, “He’s the Rock upon which I stand.” He said while it was fun to be a football champion, “the biggest blessing of all” was “the knowledge of knowing and having a loving and living relationship with Jesus.”

“Midway through college, God grabbed hold of me. During a Bible study, I begin to focus on the holiness of God – how powerful and majestic He is… Jessica (his wife) and I see ourselves not as football people – but as Kingdom workers,” a sports website, The Goal, quotes him as saying.

Through Desire Street Ministries, Wuerffel is engaged in Christian mission and charitable work in Louisiana, Georgia and Alabama. Working with others in the Christian community, it seeks to eradicate poverty in the United States and beyond. The former NFL champion also travels to speak with Christian athletes and other believers across the United States.

The former athlete was drafted by the New Orleans Saints in the fourth round of the 1997 NFL Draft, where he was first exposed to Desire Street Ministries. After playing for the Green Bay Packers, the Chicago Bears and the Washington Redskins, Danny retired from pro-ball to work full-time for the Christian charity.

He spent three seasons with the Saints, where he started six games, before landing with the Green Bay Packers in 2000, the Chicago Bears in 2001, and the Washington Redskins in 2002.

Throughout his football career, Wuerffel was known for folding his hands in prayer after throwing touchdowns.

Wuerffel was born in Pensacola, Fla. in 1974, the son of a Lutheran minister who was a chaplain in the United States Air Force. While he was growing up, he and his family lived in South Carolina, Spain, Nebraska and Colorado before he attended Fort Walton Beach High School in Fort Walton Beach, Fla.