Nov. 14, 2013
By Jerome Boettcher | Commodore Nation
Hunched over, Fitz Lassing couldn’t sit up straight without absorbing a tremendous amount of pain in his stomach.
Something wasn’t right. He didn’t get sick. He never does. But here the Vanderbilt fullback was— vomiting and enduring stomach cramps for more than a month.
“Once or twice I didn’t think anything about it,” he said. “But when it kept happening over and over, something is weird. Something is not adding up.”
At the urging of his father, he consulted with athletic trainer Tom Bossung and headed over to the VU Medical Center. After a long night of tests last summer, doctors found Lassing was suffering from ureteropelvic junction obstruction (UPJ).
The tube, or ureter, connecting his right kidney to his bladder had become backed up, preventing waste from being released. His kidney was blocked—for how long was uncertain—and working at only 25 percent. If buildup continued, in less than a year, Lassing could have lost all function in his right kidney.
“It was more serious than what I was expecting,” Lassing said. “It sunk in when he was like, ‘You need surgery.’”
Luckily for Lassing, he was in the hands of Dr. S. Duke Herrell, an associate professor of urology at Vanderbilt.
Instead of cutting through the abdomen—a procedure that would have most likely sidelined Lassing for the entire 2012 season—Herrell used a micro laparoscopic technique he pioneered.
He made two small incisions in the stomach and inserted long, three-millimeter instruments to repair the kidney. With the guidance of a small camera, he placed a stent, which stayed in for four weeks, in the ureter. Vanderbilt is one of only two medical centers in the world to perform the procedure.
Lassing was held back from all activities for four weeks, lost 25 pounds and missed the first two weeks of preseason football camp. But six weeks after the procedure he was back on the football field and played in the season opener against South Carolina. Under the supervision of Herrell and with the help of athletic trainer Justin Wenzel, Lassing was back to 100 percent after three games.
“It is incredible,” Lassing says a year later. “You have to think there are a handful of schools in the country where I would have had this opportunity. Anywhere else, that is a season-ending injury. Here, I hardly missed any time. It is just a testament to what they got going on at the hospital, how incredible it is that something like this that could have been so devastating turned out to be hardly anything.”
Entering his senior season, Lassing has made the most of his four years at Vanderbilt.
On the football field, he is a multi-year starter with 11 career catches for 94 yards and two touchdowns. But the former Montgomery Bell Academy standout takes pride in his primary responsibility of blocking for his teammates. He called it an honor to block for Zac Stacy, who graduated last year as the program’s top rusher.
In the classroom, the economics major holds a 3.9 GPA, will graduate in December, earned the squad’s highest GPA and academic average awards the last two years and has made the Southeastern Conference Academic Honor Roll three times. In September, his academic achievements received attention once again as he was nominated for the National Football Foundation’s National Scholar-Athlete Awards.
“It is awesome to represent this team,” he said. “It has a bunch of really smart guys on it. Being nominated is a huge honor. I think (being a scholar-athlete) is about balancing. You have a lot of demands placed on you here both academically and athletically. Balancing your time, balancing your commitment being able to work it all out it is kind of a testament to all the work all these guys put in, trying to be the best in both arenas.”