Ex-Hawkeye center Rafael Eubanks moves from football field to medical field

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You don’t need to be a professional magician to put “University of Iowa football” and “kidney” in the same sentence and come up with something good. I offer the following paragraph as proof:

Rafael Eubanks, Iowa’s center in its Orange Bowl win 17 months ago, is working as a patient care technician in kidney dialysis at a Twin Cities medical care facility.

After the rhabdomyolysis episode in January that sent 13 Iowa footballers to University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in January, it would seem no kidney news is good kidney news in Hawkeyeland. But Eubanks, who graduated from Iowa in 2010 with a degree in interdepartmental studies with a health science track, truly is a good-news story.

For the last six months, he has worked at Fresenius Medical Care clinics in Maple Grove and Roseville, Minn, near his St. Paul hometown.

“I was looking to get hands-on patient care experience to make myself more valuable when I apply to PA (Physician Assistant) school in the next year or so,” Eubanks said.

“Getting into PA school is very difficult, almost to the level of medical school. Most programs take 20 or 25 students a year and have hundreds applying. I’m doing the best I can to make myself valuable.”

If you’re competent as a kidney dialysis technician, you’re valuable.

“You come in and have a pretty extensive 6-week training program,” Eubanks said. “That’s in class, and on the clinic floor with someone who’s been doing it a long time. Then, there’s another three months that you’re still training before you can pretty much work by yourself as a PCT.

“Now, on a daily basis, I set up the machines in the clinic, I’m prepping supplies, and then putting somebody on dialysis. I put two needles in peoples’ arms, and they are not small needles at all.”

Dialysis, as those who have endured it or have had loved ones do so, is tough stuff.

Eubanks sees up to eight patients a day. Patients attend the clinic three times a week, for three or four hours per visit. In hemodialysis, blood is removed from the body and circulated through special filters outside the body. Toxins are removed before the blood is returned to the body.

“At first, it was kind of daunting for me,” said Eubanks. “It was scary. You basically have somebody’s life in your hands. At the same time, it’s very rewarding and very humbling.”

PCTs are more than technicians. To use Eubanks’ word, they’re caretakers.

“Every half-hour I’m checking on patients’ vitals and their needs,” he said. “Sometimes you’re trying to calm somebody down. Sometimes you’re just holding conversations with them. You hear a lot of amazing stories.

“They’re kind of in a very volatile position. As a caretaker, I do my best to make them feel comfortable.

“Kidney disease is blind to age or nationality. People may be on dialysis, but it doesn’t stop them from what they want to do with their careers or their goals in life.”

Eubanks is 24. He started 39 games in his Iowa career, including all 13 as a senior for the 11-2 Hawkeyes. He was on the second-team of the coaches’ All-Big Ten team that year. He was good, just not quite NFL-good.

“It’s hard to let go of football,” Eubanks said. “At the same time, you understand it doesn’t last forever. I know I needed to get the other part of my life on track and develop that side. I tell people almost every day that a year-and-a-half ago I wouldn’t have imagined being in the position I am now. To me, that’s a good thing.

“As much as I loved playing at Iowa, representing the University of Iowa in the Big Ten, this is a new part of life and every day is something new. Whether it helps me get to my final goal, I don’t know. But I know I’m happy with what I’m doing. It’s been a great experience.” 

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