For two long years, former NFL linebacker Geno Hayes fought as hard as he could in his battle against liver disease. Sadly, ESPN reports that while awaiting a liver transplant, he died Monday evening. He was 33.
Earlier this month, Hayes was placed in hospice care at his parents’ home in Valdosta, Ga. In the past year, he had been hospitalized over 20 times with liver complications, but maintained a positive outlook despite the grim circumstances.
In March, his health began to deteriorate rapidly. He attributed his liver problems to over-the-counter pain medications such as Tylenol, Advil, and Aleve that he took throughout the course of his NFL career, in addition to his family’s medical history. As he struggled with liver disease, he kept his condition a secret to everyone outside of his immediate circle.
“I wanted more to know but didn’t want to be a burden,” Hayes told ESPN. Eventually, he decided to become more forthcoming about his disease in hopes that it could help others fighting similar battles.
“I think maybe just to inspire a person going through something similar [who] needs that extra motivation,” he said. “It may inspire someone to never give up.”
Throughout the course of his seven-year career, he played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Chicago Bears, and the Jacksonville Jaguars, starting in a total of 70 games.
“We are deeply saddened to learn of Geno Hayes’ passing,” the Bucs said in a statement on Tuesday. “During his time with the Buccaneers, Geno was a beloved teammate and often the first player to volunteer his time to our efforts in the community. He frequently visited schools and had a remarkable ability to connect with children. Losing him at such a young age is heartbreaking. Our thoughts are with his family.”
Other members of the football community have also taken to Twitter to offer their condolences:
New York Jet coach Robert Saleh, who coached Hayes during his stint as an assistant with the Jaguars, also issued a statement:
“My prayers and thoughts are with Geno Hayes’ family and loved ones after his untimely passing. Having the opportunity to spend time with him, I saw Geno’s passion and love for not only football but for life itself. He was an amazing person who left a mark on everyone who had the pleasure of connecting with him.”
Hayes is survived by his wife, Shevelle, and his children Gemarii, 13, and Skyler, 8.