When: 3:30 p.m. Saturday
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SOUTH BEND — Danny Spond will occasionally allow himself to look around the Notre Dame locker room and remember how far he has come in a short time.
It’s a rare indulgence for the junior linebacker who had to contemplate never playing football again after a medical scare in August, but one he has earned as the No. 4 Irish (8-0) prepare to play host to Pittsburgh (4-4) on Saturday.
“There have definitely been surreal moments where after games I will take a step back,” Spond said. “I really don’t like to allow myself to do that. … I’m not that type guy to give myself any more praise or anything.”
But Spond’s recovery from a rare form of a headache that left the left side of his body paralyzed has been remarkable.
The trouble began midway through an Irish practice on Aug. 8. Spond was trying to work through a headache that was getting progressively worse during a morning session, but when his vision started to blur and he felt numbness in his face, it was time to seek help.
He went to head football athletic trainer Rob Hunt, and after being looked over by the medical staff, Spond was taken directly to the hospital.
“(The trainers) just ran their prognosis tests or whatever they do, and our head trainer at the time determined let’s take him in,” Spond said. “It could have been a million things.”
It turned out to be a hemiplegic migraine, a rare headache that can cause stroke-like symptoms and paralysis, according to WebMD.com.
Spond’s attack left him without feeling in the left side of his body and kept him in the hospital for two days as he worried about the worst-case scenarios.
“I wanted to be able to move again. I wanted to be able to walk again,” Spond said.
“There were moments when I didn’t know if that was going to be a possibility or when that was going to come back, if it all. That was the scariest moment for me.”
After being released from the hospital, the Littleton, Colo., native and his father, Don, went to see Dr. Jeffrey Kutcher, a neurologist at the University of Michigan.
Kutcher ran more tests on Spond and determined that the migraine wasn’t caused by football, and after a long heart-to-heart with his father, Spond decided he wanted to try and come back.
“Once I felt comfortable enough with that and knowing the love I have for this game, I wasn’t ready to give it up yet,” Spond said.
But his love for football would be tested by a grueling rehabilitation process.
Spond’s left side had become so weak he could barely hold anything in his left hand, and his left leg had digressed to the point where he had to relearn how to walk.
“That was something that I never would of in a million years imagined that somebody would have had to do,” Spond said. “That was kind of like a wakeup call to me, like we got to work.”
As Spond regained his strength, he also became more comfortable with what happened to him and no longer worried about a relapse every time he got a headache.
“I was scared, ‘Is this going to kick in again?’ ” Spond said. “Once I was comfortable enough to start working back into everything and realizing I wasn’t having any more headaches that kind of just ran away. I’ve felt good ever since then.”
The 6-foot-2, 248-pounder still takes a preventive medicine every night before he goes to bed, but with no more attacks, he has been in starting lineup ever since the Irish’s 20-3 victory Sept. 15 at Michigan State.
Spond has 27 tackles, one interception and two pass breakups this year for Notre Dame, which enters the weekend at No. 3 in the BCS standings.
And he is getting notoriety for his play as much as his comeback.
“I think it’s the classic case of somebody making you notice him. His play makes you notice him,” coach Brian Kelly said. “He’s played extremely well this year. … It’s nice to see that he’s made people notice him.”