OXNARD, Calif. — As soon as next Monday, Amobi Okoye is expected to practice football. He’s going to crouch down in a stance. And charge at offensive linemen in his path. And work alongside his teammates. He’s going to do all this 17 months after he was felled by a rare disease, went into a coma and was left with a 145-day gap in his memory.
“It’s a blessing every day,” said Okoye, the 27-year-old Cowboys defensive tackle. “You count your blessings. Your faith gets tested. I am happy to be back doing what I love to do.”
Okoye received clearance to take part in contact drills Thursday after visiting Boston-based physician Dr. Imoigele Aisiku for a checkup. In the coming days, the Cowboys are going to monitor Okoye, and it’s conceivable he could play in Week 3 of the preseason — his first game since December 2012.
Aisiku and Dr. Paul Schulz of the Mischer Neuroscience Institute were the two main doctors supervising the treatment of Okoye after he contracted anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis, an autoimmune syndrome that was first identified in 2007 and is potentially fatal. Those stricken with the unusual disease experience brain inflammation brought on by antibodies interfering with cell communication and causing neuronal damage.
Shortly after the NFL free agency period began in March 2013, Okoye had a series of seizures in Houston, where he lived. His representatives, Ian Greengross and Darin Morgan, had just talked to the Cowboys, and they had expressed interest in signing Okoye, a former first-round draft pick of the Houston Texans who had spent the two previous seasons playing under current Dallas defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli.
After finishing a workout, the Nigerian-born Okoye dropped by the office of his father, Augustine, when he began convulsing.
“I thought he was having a heart attack,” Augustine said. “How can a young man be having a heart attack? It was frightening.”
Okoye was rushed to Christus St. Catherine, where they ran a series of tests and he had another seizure. In a span of four days, he lost his speech and spent time in three hospitals, the last of which was Memorial Hermann.