Bob Lilly's Miracle
To some he is known as the greatest Cowboys defensive lineman ever. To some he is known by a nickname he doesn't even like. But to Robert Lewis Lilly?
“I’m just Bob,” joked Lilly. “I haven’t changed much to tell you the truth.
Bob Lilly was a stalwart on the Cowboys “Doomsday Defense” and is draped in accolades. Lilly was a 7-time All-Pro, Cowboys Ring of Honor member and Pro Football Hall of Famer.
However, it was right out of college at TCU, at the Kodak All-American game, where Lilly found another passion. Photography.
“Everyone got used to me wearing a camera,” explained Lilly, who took pictures everywhere he went. As he grew older, his love for photography grew deeper. He and a few buddies would make trips all over the western United States, hoping to find the perfect picture.
“Sometimes we had a trip where everything went perfect,” said Lilly.
“Sometimes a 10.”
While Lilly took pictures that were 10’s, so many remember the vivid picture of him in six. As in Super Bowl VI, when Lilly led the Cowboys to a total undressing of the Miami Dolphins. He still holds a Super Bowl record, sacking Bob Griese for the biggest loss in super bowl history - 29 yards. It's memories like that one - in which he can still feel the rush of emotion.
“We were kind of fearful,” said Lilly about facing the Dolphins. “It’s good when you have a little bit of fear – it motivates you to put everything you've got."
But if fear motivates, for Lilly, even the Super Bowl didn't present the fear that faced him three years ago.
"I was - pretty well thought I was gone. I could not put my socks on, I couldn't tie my shoes, I couldn't wash my hair,” explained Lilly.
“I know everybody's got a time to go, but I wasn't quite ready."
Lilly went from climbing mountains, walking 20 miles and playing golf - to miserable aches and pains that left him unable to get out of bed. Doctors told him he might have Leukemia, then they thought it was rheumatoid arthritis, but they couldn’t pinpoint it. Prednisone helped, but it didn't end the pain. So he went a different route.
“I’d heard about stem cells, but I had no idea what they were,” said Lilly.
At the urging of his sons - and former Texas A&M head football coach Jackie Sherrill - Lilly met with a Houston biotech company called Celltex. The company pulls stem cells out of the stomach via liposuction, cultivates them and then reinjects them into joints. Lilly took the leap.
“My fear was if you get tainted stem cells,” said Lilly.
“You don’t know. You really don’t know.”
Lilly needed work on his shoulder - where his cartilage was nearly gone. For the injection phase though, he had to go to Mexico because it's not approved in the United States. When he arrived he met other people who had routinely done this – and they told him it was the greatest thing they'd ever done.
That’s where one Austin area researcher wants to tap the brakes.
Austin Cooney is an associate professor at the Dell Medical School. He's worked in the stem cell field for more than a decade, and is a big proponent of stem cell research and therapy.
“You need to have large-scale trials with a large number of people receiving therapy and a large number who aren’t,” Cooney explains.
“That is evidence based medicine."
For an active man like Lilly, the results are what mattered most. His joints hurt so bad he couldn’t stand it. Now, his life is changed.
“I've seen a miracle,” said a smiling Lilly.