Alex Smith's road to recovery included stay at facility helping wounded military veterans

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After 17 surgeries, enduring a severe life-threatening infection and considering the possibility of amputation, Washington Redskins quarterback Alex Smith still harbors hopes of returning to the NFL.

That optimism is hard to wrap your head around if you watched the "E60" report called "Project 11," for which ESPN spent two weeks with Smith and his family, documenting his road to recovery. 

The visuals shown throughout the "E60" episode of Smith's surgically repaired right leg are #NSFW.

Smith broke both his tibia and fibula during a loss to the Houston Texans on Nov. 18, 2018. Smith was tackled by the Texans' J.J. Watt and Kareem Jackson, causing a compound fracture in his right tibia. The bone penetrated the skin in the injury.

What followed is 17 months and counting of rehabilitation with the ultimate goal being an NFL comeback.

"Football might not be out of the question. Can I go play quarterback again? Can I push it that far?" Smith said.

Smith playing competitive professional football again would seem like a miracle, especially when you learn that the former No. 1 overall draft pick's road to recovery included a trip to a military health center specializing in treating amputees. 

"The way that the doctors explained it to us, he no longer has a sports injury," Smith's wife, Elizabeth, said. "He has what would be more comparable to a military injury. He has a blast injury."

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Alex Smith reacts after suffering a broken leg against the Texans.

Smith received special permission from the military to receive medical consultation at the Center for the Intrepid in San Antonio. The Center for the Intrepid is a state-of-the-art facility helping men and women wounded in combat. 

"To make the trip down to San Antonio ... very, very humbling," Smith said. "I was playing the game. I was playing football. So for me, I was trying to grasp what that reality was like ... what's life going to be like?"

Smith got a dose of reality at the Center from Kelly Elmlinger, who was on active duty with the U.S. Army from 1998-2018.

"You're life isn't getting any better hanging on to this leg," Elmlinger said, describing her situation. "I've done everything. I've tried everything. One of the most scariest moments I had was asking (a doctor) to cut my leg off."

"Has every-day life improved?" Smith asks.

"Absolutely," Elmlinger responded. "Our lives have taken an absolute beating. Yours (talking to Smith) has taken a beating. You're probably not done, to be honest with you."

Smith wasn't done with having surgeries. Before his 17th and final surgery, Smith began rehabbing at the Center while his right leg was still in a cast and with screws still penetrating his skin. 

Smith will turn 36 years old on May 7. According to Spotrac, Smith has amassed $173 million-plus in career earnings. He is signed with the Redskins through the 2022 season. The Redskins have a potential out on Smith's contract in 2021, but it would count as $10,800,000 in dead salary cap money.

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