The Local Hero Award was created to honor an individual from the host city of the ASCRS Annual Meeting who have made an extraordinary impact on colon and rectal disease.
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Rolf Benirschke grew up in a medical family in San Diego as the son of a world-renowned Pathologist who was always challenging him to make his life count for something more.
However, instead of following in his family’s medical footsteps, Rolf’s career began in the NFL serving as placekicker for the San Diego Chargers.
As an NFL placekicker, his star was rising fast when in his second season he was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. Rolf underwent a colectomy with anastomosis that leaked and caused severe sepsis. He had several operations performed by colorectal surgeons who saved his life. Yet his experience inspired some early ideas on how he might follow his father’s early advice to make his life count for something more.
Meanwhile, he returned to the NFL where he played with an ileostomy and a mucous fistula for a total of 10 years and earned his spot as the third most accurate placekicker in NFL history plus numerous honors, including the Pro Bowl and NFL “Man of the Year” award.
Outside the NFL, Rolf made his ulcerative colitis journey count by creating a nationwide patient advocacy and support program for those facing ostomy surgery and IBD. For 36 years, Rolf has been providing inspiration and encouragement to patients around the world who live with Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, colorectal and bladder cancer or other circumstances that can lead to ostomy surgery.
Rolf has written three books — Alive & Kicking, which details his battle with ulcerative colitis and other health issues, Great Comebacks from Ostomy Surgery, and Embracing Life, two books featuring inspirational stories of people who have survived and thrived following ostomy surgery.
In 2009, his visionary work as a patient advocate led him to co-found Legacy Health Strategies, an industry-leading strategic marketing firm that develops patient support, disease awareness, and treatment compliance initiatives for medical device and pharmaceutical companies.
Rolf is married to Mary Michaletz Benirschke, a speech pathologist, and they reside in San Diego. The couple has four children, Erik, Kari, Tim, and Ryan. Three of his children have special needs including cerebral palsy, brain injury and developmental delays, which further sparks the couple’s advocacy for those in need and gives them more compassion and understanding of life’s gifts and challenges.
“It’s not what you become, it’s what you overcome.” (Rolf)