For former NFL placekicker Rolf Benirschke, ulcerative colitis led to two emergency surgeries within six days and two temporary ostomies to save his life; it also led to an unexpected and meaningful connection with former President George H.W. Bush.
The 41st President of the United States passed away on November 30 at the age of 94 from Parkinson’s disease. Rolf, having experienced the loss of his father just a few months prior, grieved alongside the Bush family and cherished fond memories of the late patriarch. He recalls the surprise he felt on an otherwise ordinary day back in 1984 when his assistant forwarded a phone call to him from the Vice President. "The Vice President of what?” had been his baffled response.
In their initial conversation, the Vice President revealed that his youngest son, Marvin, had recently undergone ostomy surgery after battling severe ulcerative colitis. Knowing that Rolf went through the same procedure during his football career and had continued to play seven more seasons with the San Diego Chargers afterward, the anxious father sought reassurance that Marvin would be able to lead a normal life as well.
Over the years, Rolf continued to connect with the Bush family from time to time and was happy to witness Marvin make a successful recovery. Now the CEO of Legacy Health Strategies and Founder of the Grateful Patient Project, Rolf remains dedicated to using his own experiences to advocate for patients and support research on improved medical outcomes.
"We cannot hope only to leave our children a bigger car, a bigger bank account. We must hope to give them a sense of what it means to be a loyal friend, a loving parent, a citizen who leaves his home, his neighborhood and town better than he found it." – President George H.W. Bush
He cites the former President as being a prime example of how to serve others with kindness and respect, remaining humble and grateful to the end — an admirable legacy indeed.