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Donny Sparks recovers from blood clots, surgeries

by Matt Naber | Feb 07, 2020

PRCA Media Coordinator

Dodging death was a daily routine for former bullfighter Donny Sparks. But an injury from 1996 came back to bite him recently, forcing him to go in for a knee replacement that turned into having blood clots in his lungs. 

“They say you can feel when a blood clot moves and I believe it’s true,” Donny Sparks said. “It’s kind of scary.”

It takes a lot to scare the Sparks twins as Donny and Ronny Sparks were among ProRodeo’s best bullfighters in the late 1980s through the 1990s. Among the Texas twins’ accomplishments, Donny was a three-time Wrangler reserve champion bullfighter (1989, '90, '92) and competed at the Wrangler Bullfight Tour Finals (1989-92 and 1995-96), while Ronny was Wrangler World Champion Bullfighter in 1992-93 and 1995 and reserve World Champion Bullfighter in 1994.

Donny Sparks originally injured his knee two weeks before the 1996 National Finals Rodeo when he fell about 20 feet from a tree while out hunting. 

“I landed on my feet and was in great shape at that time and that’s what kept me from breaking my leg,” Donny Sparks said. “I felt something pop and tear in my right knee and then I went about my day.” 

He went hunting the next day and after sitting on his knees for about an hour he was unable to straighten his right leg for a while. 

Everything was fine up until he was stretching for the 1996 Wrangler NFR bullfights when his right knee locked up again. He went ahead with the bullfighting competition and spoke with Dr. Tandy Freeman afterwards. 

“He decided I needed to scope it because I had a whole bunch of bone fragments and trash in there,” Donny Sparks said. “Tandy told me to just rehab the knee and keep doing what you’re doing but one day it will give you trouble and will need to be fixed.”

That day came, and by January 2020 he went in for a knee replacement as he’d worn through the cartilage on both knees and X-rays revealed two of the joints were a quarter inch off. 

Thanks to an epidural, Donny Sparks didn’t feel any pain and was walking down the hallways too long after the knee replacement surgery on Jan. 23, two days before his 56th birthday. 

“I talked to him this morning and he said he’s planning his escape,” Ronny Sparks joked on Jan. 31. 

Just when he thought everything was going fine, Donny Sparks was rushed by ambulance in the middle of the night to Imminent Medical Center in the Plano, Texas, area. 

“Everything went south, my heart rate dropped, blood pressure was crazy and my blood count was bad,” Donny Sparks said. “I had developed numerous blood clots in both lungs and one in my right knee. It was a scary time. It went from that to blood transfusions and two shots in the stomach for thinning the blood but they couldn’t get my fever down.” 

By Jan. 30 it was decided to put a filter into Donny Sparks’ aorta to bust up the blood clots as they circulate through. 

“I felt one moving this morning, it stopped right at my sternum,” Donny Sparks said Feb. 4. “It was just a real bad pain that lasted a couple of minutes and then it went away.”

He went home the next day and is walking around and keeping hydrated. 

“That’s been the 12th surgery I’ve had and the most severe since a piece of my body was replaced,” Donny Sparks said. “They’d always been a piece of cake, but it’s not like that when you’re older. 

“I’m lucky, I couldn’t do it without my wife (Stephanie), she’s the best nurse ever that doesn’t know anything about medicine. It’s a team effort but I can’t do it without the Lord too.”

His filter will remain in place for about six months and then it’s a simple procedure to remove. 

“It’s green pastures ahead,” Donny Sparks said. 

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