Protecting the Quarterback While Battling Crohn's Disease

Former Patriots offensive tackle Matt Light spent a decade protecting Tom Brady, while quietly battling Crohn's disease.

Matt Light with his son at the “A Touch of Football” fundraiser at Gillette Stadium in September. Photo provided.

Being a professional athlete is physically demanding enough, but add in a chronic digestive disease to the physical challenge, and you’ve got yourself one super human. Matt Light, who recently retired after spending his entire career with the Patriots as an offensive tackle, was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in 2001, his rookie year. Crohn’s is a bowel disease that causes inflammation of the lining of the digestive system.

“Crohn’s is a nasty disease that people have trouble opening about,” Light says. Since retiring, Light has been involved with Crohn’s disease awareness and works closely with Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America. In 2002, he established the Matt Light Foundation, which strives to instill leadership in young people.

“I was inspired by the efforts behind the Kraft Family Foundation,” Light says. “When we talk to our kids, what they do and feel is real. We want to spend time with them. We hold kids accountable, talk to them about ethics, what it means to be responsible, and how to be leaders in their community.”

As for his own health, Light says, “I showed symptoms [of Crohn’s] when I was in college. I was stressed and had terrible stomach aches.” He had intestine surgery in 2004, and since then, he took an aggressive approach by being proactive with his nutrition. He makes sure he is staying educated about his disease, and helping other patients stay educated as well. “CCFA has so much knowledge about drugs, but you can’t leave everything up to everybody else. You have to take an active role in your disease, and can’t leave everything up to other people because it won’t be done right,” he says.

Dr. Daniel A. Leffler, a clinical research director at Beth Israel’s Celiac Center says that conditions like irritable bowel syndrome, a sensitive stomach, and digestive diseases like Crohn’s are good reasons to give a gluten-free diet a try. Light says he sees a regular gastroenterologist at Mass. General Hospital, and while he doesn’t eat gluten-free, he does eat healthy. “Eat as healthy as possible,” Light says. “No greasy foods. Find alternatives to sugar, more natural food sources, and utilize nuts and beans for protein. But in retirement, I’m not taking in as much calories as I was when I was playing.”

Light also now receives an infusion therapy called Remicade, which is an injection used to relieve symptoms, and a treatment option he did not take advantage of when playing in the NFL. This is one of the many reasons he is so involved with helping patients act early to get the help they need and find what therapies work for them.

“I played nine years with a horrible disease. A message that gets lost in the shuffle is that you can get through anything,” Light says. “We’re small, but we’re mighty. The kids are the heart and soul of the foundation. The best thing I leave them with is that it’s not the end of the world.”