Butler endures family crisis

CHARLOTTE - One minute, cornerback Darius Butler was in a meeting preparing for the Panthers' game against the Minnesota Vikings.

The next minute, he was speeding to the airport, catching a flight to Florida in response to a life-threatening situation involving his three-month-old daughter, Milan.

"It was the scariest few days of my life. Since (last) Wednesday I don't think I left the hospital," Butler said Wednesday, six days after his daughter underwent emergency heart surgery. "We all do visits to children's hospitals, but you never think it's going to be your child."

Milan is recovering in the pediatric intensive care unit at Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital in Hollywood, Fla., and the long-term prognosis is promising. Butler briefly returned to Charlotte to take part in the Panthers' final practice Wednesday before the bye weekend, then he headed right back to Florida.

Milan's mother took her to the doctor for a routine visit last Wednesday, during which a serious problem was discovered. Milan underwent emergency surgery last Thursday, with Butler on-hand, and appeared to come out of it well.

"I don't know the exact medical terminology, but the way they explained it was major complications to the veins in the heart that needed to be surgically repaired," Butler said. "I just put it all in God's hands at that point. All I could do was pray."

Butler had planned to come back to Charlotte last Friday, in time for Sunday's game against the Vikings, but before he departed he got a call that things had taken a turn for the worse.

"I was in the airport and was about to fly, but at 6 in the morning she had a setback, and they had to go in there and do some things and put her on an ECMO machine - life support," Butler said. "It does the breathing and the heart pumping for her. She was on that from Friday up until Tuesday.

"Once I saw that she got off of that and that she was breathing on her own and her heart was looking fine, I came up here to get this practice in."

Butler, who joined the team less than two months ago when the Panthers claimed him off waivers from the New England Patriots, said he has gotten remarkable support from the franchise throughout his ordeal.

Milan could be hospitalized for another couple of weeks, but Butler said he expects to be back when practice resumes next week in preparation for the Tennessee Titans game on Nov. 13.

Wednesday, his teammates were glad to see him and hear that the situation was improving.

"It was good to have him back," Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said. "We'll just keep praying that she keeps getting stronger and stronger."

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