The pain woke Todd Duffee in the middle of the night.
“It felt like somebody stabbing me in my back,” he told the Sherdog Radio Network’s “Beatdown” show. “I kind of freaked out. Should I go to the ER? What do I do? It was that kind of pain. I just couldn’t move. I could kind of lift my shoulder to a certain extent, but I couldn’t use my hand fully. I could like pulse it, but I couldn’t close it. I couldn’t pick up anything with it or anything like that.”
The UFC heavyweight sat on the edge of his bed trying to figure out what was happening to him. One guess was that he’d pinched a nerve. Besides the knife in his back, pain was shooting up and down his arm and he felt numbness too.
“It was scary,” Duffee said. “I’m not even going to lie to you. I was like, what is going [on]?”
Over the next few days he saw several doctors and underwent various tests. Eventually a neurologist diagnosed him with Parsonage-Turner syndrome, a rare disorder characterized by shoulder pain, neurological deficits, motor weakness and numbness.
“It’s one of those moments where your whole perspective on life changes and you have to start kind of looking at things differently,” Duffee said.
One of his first thoughts, though, was fighting. The UFC had been considering using Duffee at UFC 168, but his doctor told him it would be a year before he could fight again. In fact, it took him about a month and a half before he could even close his right hand. However, his recovery is now going well.
“Already I’ve had a very fast recovery,” Duffee said. “I’m very advanced.”
While the typical recovery can take 18 to 24 months, Duffee is not your typical human. The 27-year-old is one of the most physically gifted heavyweights in the UFC. He’s suffered a few setbacks and now a serious scare, but he expects to be back in the Octagon much sooner than anticipated.
“I’ve talked to all the therapists I’ve worked with and the doctors,” Duffee said, “and they’re all very confident that I can come back inside a year.”
Listen to the full interview (beginning at 0:01).