Minnesota Vikings linebacker Cam Smith will always be grateful he tested positive for COVID-19. It might have saved his life.

Upon learning of his condition, Smith underwent additional tests as a precaution, and from there learned of a congenital defect that will require open-heart surgery to fix.

The 23-year-old announced the news via his Instagram earlier this week and confirmed he will miss the upcoming season. Smith, a former Southern Cal star, was a fifth-round draft pick in 2019.

“I wouldn’t have ever known about this, or as soon as I do now, without getting tested for COVID-19,” Smith said Friday. “It’s a blessing in disguise, and there’s a lot of good that came from that.”

After testing positive for COVID-19 initially, Smith got tested a few more times, and each time the results actually came back negative. He also underwent an echocardiogram to further examine his heart function, and the doctors told him the results didn’t look right. He had an MRI a couple of days after that and finally learned that he needed open-heart surgery to fix a bicuspid aortic valve.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

Those words — open-heart surgery — sent his mind into oblivion

“My head instantly started rushing,” Smith said. “It was very overwhelming. After I got the news, talked to the doctor, I drove back to the team facility, and I was in my car for 30 minutes with no sound, thinking and kind of learning what the next step was. Then I got here, and (team trainer Eric Sugarman) really kind of eased my mind.”

He flies to Philadelphia next week for surgery scheduled for the following Monday.

“I’ll probably have some anxiety like anyone does before surgery,” Smith said. “Just excited to get this done, put it behind me and move forward.”

While it won’t do much to ease his anxiety in the coming days, Smith researched the surgery itself and learned it’s actually very common. That offered some solace in the moment, as did the fact that various people reached out via social media.

Not much has changed in Smith’s every-day life so far. He has been around his teammates at TCO Performance Center in Eagan this week, and still feels relatively normal, or at least his version of normal.

“I’m starting to realize that maybe normal to me isn’t exactly normal,” Smith said. “I’m pretty excited to see what this change is going to feel like and actually get a properly functioning heart back in my body.”

He said doctors told him the surgery will allow more oxygen to get to his heart, thus alleviating some of the shortness of breath he has experienced in the past, and decreasing his overall heart rate during workouts.

“Just from everyone I’ve talked to, they feel so much better after the surgery,” Smith said. “I’m hoping that’s going to translate on the field.”

Yes, Smith plans to be back on the field at some point. He made that abundantly clear.

“They believe 100 percent that if I’ve been playing football this entire time, that there should be no reason why I can’t after,” Smith said. “I’ll be in a healthier state than I have been for the past 20-plus years, and I’m driven and ready to return next year.”