INDIANAPOLIS — Colts head coach Chuck Pagano is winning his battle with leukemia.
On Monday, Dr. Larry Cripe, Pagano’s physician, told The Associated Press that the illness which has sidelined Indy’s head coach for more than a month was in “complete remission.” Cripe said a morning exam showed Pagano’s white blood cell count and bone marrow tests were normal as he prepares to start a second round of chemotherapy.
The doctor explained patients typically undergo three rounds of treatment to wipe out any potentially lingering cancer cells. The second round of chemo is scheduled to start later this week and will last four to six weeks, Cripe said.
“His (blood cell) count was great,” interim coach Bruce Arians told reporters after Pagano visited the team complex Monday. “He knows that this next one (round) is going to be really tough and we’re praying for him, and he’s going to be fine.”
The latest medical update came less than 24 hours after Pagano returned to Lucas Oil Stadium for the first time since he was diagnosed with a form of leukemia on Sept. 26. Pagano spent most of the next month in an Indianapolis hospital, watching two Colts games from his room. On Oct. 21, he returned home where he watched the next two Indy games. Doctors wanted to keep him in primarily sterile environments to avoid any risk of infection.
On Sunday, Pagano cleared yet another hurdle when doctors allowed him to attend the Miami game in person. He watched the Colts win their third straight, 23-20, from the coaches’ box and provided inspirational messages to players before and after the game.
“I’ve got circumstances. You guys understand it, I understand it. It’s already beat. It’s already beat,” Pagano said during Sunday’s postgame speech, hesitating to catch his breath a couple of times. “My vision that I’m living is to see two more daughters get married, dance at their weddings and then lift the Lombardi Trophy several times. I’m dancing at two more weddings and we’re hoisting that trophy together, men. Congratulations, I love all of you.”
Pagano’s appearance Sunday was a clear indication things were going well. Cripe confirmed that in his comments Monday.
On the field, things have gone well for the Colts, too. Indy (5-3) is 4-1 since Arians, also a cancer survivor, was made interim coach and the sudden spate of success has put Indy back in the playoff discussion.
But as the Colts continue to shock the NFL world, Pagano’s health status continues to loom large.
Team officials have hung signs reading (hash)Chuckstrong in each end zone of Lucas Oil Stadium. Reggie Wayne wore orange gloves for two games, the color designated to recognize leukemia, and Arians usually wears a button with an orange ribbon between the two sides of the horseshoe on his hat.
It’s unclear whether Pagano will return to full coaching duties this season, though Arians made it clear he hopes that happens.
“Once he comes back from Round 2 and is about to head into Round 3, our goal is for him to be on the sideline Dec. 30,” Arians said, referring to Indy’s regular-season finale against Houston.
“We know what’s coming, the downhill slide is yet to come,” Arians added. “To me it’s kind of like talking to him about the playoffs this week; one day at a time, one play at a time. There’s some down time coming, but it’s great to see him here.”