Tackling the Challenges of Cancer

Former NFL player overcomes osteosarcoma with help from RUSH care team
Art Ray and Dr. Steven Gitelis, MD, pose for a photo.

In 2007 Arthur “Art” Ray Jr. was a high school football star from Chicago’s South Side with a bright athletic career ahead of him. He’d signed to play for Michigan State and had dreams of one day playing professionally. Yet at age 17, he was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer most often found in the legs.

When seeking a second opinion at RUSH, he met Steven Gitelis, MD.

“Dr. Gitelis told me I’d be able to keep my leg and continue playing football,” Ray said. “He was definitely a blessing to me.”

“I was able to be very open and honest with Dr. Gitelis and the care team at RUSH,” Ray added. “Even though I was 18 when we first met, he always included me in conversations and was direct. It felt like a team effort, and I could trust him.”

Ray’s first surgery was in July 2007. After developing an infection in his leg, he underwent a second surgery. The surgeries were further complicated by the fact that Ray has the stature of an offensive lineman and a larger-sized leg than average.

Ray was off the football field for four years. Even as he went through lifesaving treatment, he struggled with having to defer his dreams.

“I spent two years on crutches,” he said. “It was a demoralizing time for me.”

Though it was a difficult experience, Ray found both healing and hope thanks to his care team at RUSH.

“Dr. G. came to the rescue every time — no matter what the issue was or how challenging,” Ray said. “That’s the beauty of why our relationship is so strong because of his ability to have tough conversations and always want to help me get back to what I love doing.”

Ray played his first game for Michigan State in March 2011 and stayed healthy the rest of the season. He graduated in 2012.

Because of Ray's medical history, the NCAA granted him two more seasons of eligibility. He transferred to Division II Fort Lewis in Durango, Colorado, where he became team captain in 2013 and 2014 and a valuable player in the program. He went on to play for the Miami Dolphins.

Since concluding his career as a football player, Ray has coached for the Jacksonville Jaguars and the University of Arkansas and runs a business training local football players. As for Dr. Gitelis, he has been changing the lives of patients like Art for more than 50 years.

“When I told Dr. G. I was going to play for the NFL, he said, ‘Go, Art, go!’ We had been through so much at that point; he knew nothing was going to stop me.”

If you would like to support the orthopedic oncology research program led by Steven Gitelis, MD, please click here or contact Derek Lambert, executive director of major gifts, at derek_lambert@rush.edu or (847) 207-5066.

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