Life Extension Magazine®
Jon Dorenbos while in the NFL before surgery and life change

Wellness Profile: Jon Dorenbos

When a near-death medical scare ended his NFL career, Jon Dorenbos transformed his lifestyle, diet, career, and attitude.

“I think my life story summarizes it all: Find motivation in defeat and tell yourself a narrative that will inspire yourself to keep on keeping on.”

Portrait of Jon Dorenbos

At 38 years old, Jon Dorenbos was at the height of his career.

He was entering his 15th season in the National Football League. He had performed his magic act on multiple seasons of the television show, America’s Got Talent. And he was making recurring appearances on shows like The Ellen DeGeneres Show and The Today Show.

But instead of running out onto the field as a newly minted New Orleans Saint, Dorenbos was headed into emergency surgery.

After he had been traded to the Saints, a routine physical exam revealed that he had a heart murmur. And follow-up tests revealed why: He had a life-threatening aortic aneurysm.

One wrong move—or, say, a tackle from a 300-pound linebacker—could cause the aneurysm to burst and kill him almost instantly. This same condition is what killed actors Alan Thicke and John Ritter, and actor Bill Paxton died of a postsurgical complication from this condition.

Internal Medicine specialist Dr. Jon Amoss broke the news to him: “You need immediate open-heart surgery, Jon. You’re never going to play football again.”

Less than 72 hours later, Dorenbos was undergoing emergency surgery to replace the valve and repair the aneurysm. A surgery that should have taken four hours took nearly 11, and the doctor told Dorenbos that he had the hardest sternum he’d ever had to crack. He had to stand on a stool to get enough leverage.

The road to recovery was a long one. At first, walking from his hospital bed to the door and back left Dorenbos exhausted. Emotionally, he experienced surging hormones and emotions that left him angry and depressed. It would be about a year and a half before he was fully recovered.

But Dorenbos didn’t let his career-ending diagnosis defeat him.

“When one day you’re a professional athlete heading into your 15th season in the NFL and the next you’re being told that you need emergency open-heart surgery, that if you play in your next game there is a more than 50% chance you’ll die on the field… well, you can look skyward and scream, ‘Why me?’ Or you can be thankful that your undiagnosed ticking-time-bomb heart condition was discovered in time. You can feel grateful and pledge to live each moment fully aware of how precious it is.”

His career may have been over, but in many ways his life was just beginning. Three months earlier he had married his wife, Annalise. She became his nurse and constant companion during his road to recovery.

And as she nursed him back to health, together they determined to make the most of their life—and health. After watching eye-opening documentaries on Netflix about the dangers of meat and the benefits of a vegan lifestyle, Dorenbos made drastic changes to his diet.

“If we do eat meat, it’s in moderation and we make sure it’s grass fed,” said Dorenbos. “My wife and I enjoy vegan chili—not so much because I’m vegan, but because I think that eating more vegetables and less meat is a smart decision for your health,” he said. “Every once in a while, I enjoy a tri-tip steak. But overall, I’ve cut down on sugar and other foods that are bad for you and focused on clean eating.”

In addition, Dorenbos takes a whey protein supplement to help boost his muscle performance. “I believe that when you work out, you should get protein back in your muscles,” he said.

And while he pumped iron for 22 years straight during his football years, these days his workouts consist of daily hot yoga sessions with his wife, and morning runs along the beach near his California home.

Magic Man

Jon Dorenbos shuffling playing cards

Dorenbos’s career-ending heart surgery wasn’t the biggest struggle he had to face in his life. That one came when he was only a boy, 12 years old. It was a tragedy that Dorenbos has written about and spoken about publicly—his father murdered his mother and was sentenced to 13 years in prison.

Just one year later, Dorenbos discovered close-up magic, which involves doing card tricks utilizing techniques such as sleight-of-hand. He says that performing magic provided him with a path forward.

“At the exact moment I needed it, I saw a magic trick and was transported,” said Dorenbos.

Magic brought Dorenbos out of his shell. It gave him purpose and focus and connecting with—and performing in front of—an audience gave him an adrenaline rush like no other.

Throughout his childhood—and even during his distinguished NFL career—Dorenbos spent more than 10,000 hours perfecting his craft. And in 2016, he showed off his talent to America when he auditioned for the television show America’s Got Talent.

Dorenbos made it to the finals, where he ended up in third place. Three years later, he was invited back to America’s Got Talent: The Champions. Once again, Dorenbos made it to the finals, coming in third place.

His run on America’s Got Talent opened new—and even bigger—doors for Dorenbos. He was invited to perform on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, and was eventually making regular appearances as the show’s “in-house” magician.

Now he hosts a gameshow on ellentube.com called Let Me In So You Can Win, where he surprises families who give back to their communities with a chance to win thousands of dollars.

A New Purpose

Standing on stage for performance

With his football career over, Dorenbos has turned his attention to what some say is his true calling: motivational speaking.

His mesmerizing magic, together with his personal story of overcoming tragedy and his infectious sense of humor, allows him to captivate audiences of all ages and backgrounds.

Before COVID-19 put a stop to in-person gatherings, Dorenbos was speaking in front of Fortune 500 companies like Home Depot, Lincoln Financial, and Nationwide Insurance, an average of 150 times a year. These companies want more than just a magician.

“When I perform magic at corporate events, I’m proud that it’s not gratuitous magic. It’s magic with a purpose,” said Dorenbos. “When I did magic as a kid, it opened me up. It made me vulnerable in ways to learn. What I’ve found in the speaking world is that when I do a trick that’s enhancing the message, it puts people in a state of wonder and they’re like a kid again. And now all of a sudden, they’re absorbing the message in all these different areas of the brain. They’re feeling it, experiencing it, watching it, and hearing it, and I just think it resonates better.”

The messages he delivers are the ones that he truly believes in. They deal with the healing power of forgiveness—and about not viewing failure as failure, but as part of the process.

“I take great pride that I can impact people personally and professionally,” said Dorenbos. “I think my life story summarizes it all: Find motivation in defeat and tell yourself a narrative that will inspire yourself to keep on keeping on.”

These days, Dorenbos is a hands-on dad to his one-year-old daughter, Amaya, delighting in his special night-time ritual of feeding her and rocking her to sleep.

And at the end of the day, Dorenbos wants to teach his daughter what he teaches to audiences all over the world, which is what he’s learned the hard way in his own life: to choose happiness.

“Happiness is a choice; it’s not an emotion,” said Dorenbos. “You have to choose it, see it, and constantly find it in all scenarios.This journey to find ourselves is never-ending. But what I know is that if you approach every day with childlike wonder and you recognize the possibility of every moment you find yourself in, you will actually be choosing happiness. And when you get there? Man, there’s no better high. It’s like, finally, you can exhale. It’s like… peace.”

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Jon Dorenbos spent 14 years in the National Football League. He is also a professional magician, who appeared twice on America’s Got Talent, has performed on The Ellen DeGeneres Show and The Today Show, and has headlined shows in Las Vegas. Today, Dorenbos is a motivational speaker who captivates audiences with his magic while sharing his inspiring personal story of overcoming tragedy. He captured that story in his Amazon best-selling book, Life is Magic: My Inspiring Journey from Tragedy to Self-Discovery.

For more information on Jon Dorenbos, visit www.jondorenbos.com