MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — It’s a scene that plays out in millions of homes every night.
Though family dinner at the Sherels house might be a bit more frenetic than most, with 4-year-old Valerie, 2-year-old Quinton, and twin 2-month-old Cecilia and Lyla running the show. But you won’t find a man more grateful than Mike Sherels, to do something as simple as eat with his wife and children.
“It’s one of those things that you really take for granted,” Sherels said. “Until it was taken away.”
It all started in late July, when he noticed blood in his stool. During tests to find the source of the bleeding, he was given medication to which he’s allergic. Blood clotted in his abdomen, choking off supply to his intestines. He was rushed to emergency surgery.
“We were called into a private family room,” his wife Emily said. “And my heart just sunk.”
Doctors told Emily to get family to the hospital, possibly to say goodbye.
“I just kept thinking, ‘this isn’t happening to us,’” Emily said.
Sherels was unconscious and on life support for five days. Emily, pregnant with the twins at the time, told Valerie that Sherels’ ventilator was a superhero mask. In multiple surgeries, doctors removed most of his digestive system.
“Several other surgeons would have just closed him up and say our goodbyes,” Emily said. “So he was very courageous in saving Michael’s life.”
When he finally woke up, the outlook wasn’t much more promising. Doctors told him: You may never eat again. You may never coach again. You may never live a normal life.
In his usual way, Sherels brushed it off.
“If it’s odds I’m up against,” he said, “I’ll bet on myself every time.”
It was the kind of attitude that made Sherels the first Gophers walk-on to be named captain twice. And what made him such an effective linebackers coach.
“He’s always been able to prove people wrong,” Emily said. “And I knew he wasn’t the typical patient that they were working with.”
“She would constantly ask, ‘Well, when can he go back to work?’” Sherels said. “And they’re like, ‘No, we’re not talking about going back to work yet. He’s still unconscious. You need to be talking about when is he going to leave the hospital in months.’ This was August, and the first game was coming up. And I was like, ‘I want to be there. I want to be there.’”
Everybody would’ve understood if Sherels had taken a step back. Except Sherels.
“I had to be there for my guys,” he said.
Just five days after surgery, he was discharged directly from the ICU.
“Which never happens,” Emily said.
In early October, he returned to the sideline for the game against Iowa.
“It was awesome,” Sherels said. “It was awesome. And something I’ll always remember.”
He coached the rest of the season. In January, he had surgery to reconnect what was left of his digestive system.
“It was pretty neat, to be able to eat again,” he said.
You forget how much family time is centered around food.
In May, he’ll receive the annual Courage Award from the Minnesota chapter of the National Football Foundation.
Sherels still needs supplemental nutrition every night, starting at 10 p.m. and staying hooked up until 8 a.m. His gut doesn’t absorb enough from eating naturally, so he’ll need it the rest of his life.
“Just one of those things you just kinda gotta roll with,” he said with a chuckle.
His football future is less certain. He was let go when Tracy Claeys was fired and is currently on medical leave. He has the desire to return to coaching, but is using this time to be smart about whether he should.
“I tend to think that there’s no reason that coaching can’t be in my future,” he said. “But I want to make sure. I want to make sure, and I need to make sure. I owe that to my family. And I owe that to whatever group of kids that I end up coaching.”
In the meantime, it’s amazing the perspective you now live with, when it was doubtful whether you would.
“I think about it all the time,” Sherels said. “I barely made it here. I barely made it to here. And were I in a different state, or had a different doctor, or the ambulance took a little bit longer to get where it needed to get to, I wouldn’t be here. And I’m incredibly thankful that I’m able to be here.
“You just never know when your time is going to be called, so try not to take things for granted. Especially the little things.”
Little things like sharing a meal that will never be little things again.
Tickets are still available for the Minnesota Football Honors awards at U.S. Bank Stadium on May 7. Sherels is one of several people being honored that evening. Click here for more information.