Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Wishing a Full Recovery for Eric LeGrand

In my very last post about the wheelchair user who scored a touchdown I described it as a cool convergence of sports and disability. But unfortunately every yin has its yang, and thus it was with great disappointment that I learned about Rutgers defensive tackle Eric LeGrand, who was paralyzed below the neck after making a tackle against Army this past weekend.  He has since undergone emergency spinal surgery and apparently is in good spirits.

Now in my world the phrase “paralyzed below the neck” is typically synonymous with quadriplegia, so I can only assume that is the kind of recovery that he has in store for him. As daunting and unfortunate as that is there has been some pretty good recent precedent of football players sustaining significant spinal cord injuries and having successful recoveries from them.

In 2000 former Penn State cornerback Adam Taliaferro sustained a SCI at the C-5 level. He was given a 3% chance of walking again but after eight months of rehab he was on his feet again (but never played again). I still remember watching him lead the team onto the field the following football season. It was pretty emotional. Rutgers coach Greg Schiano apparently spoke with mentor and former sideline boss Joe Paterno, who was Taliaferro’s coach at the time of his injury, to pick his brain about how to properly support LeGrand and move forward with the team.

In 2007 Kevin Everett, a reserve tight end for the Buffalo Bills, sustained a SCI while attempting a special teams tackle against the Denver Broncos. He suffered a compression of his C-3 and C-4 vertebrae and initially had no movement in his extremities, which made him a very high level quadriplegic. But immediately after his injury a Bills team physician, Dr. Andrew Cappuccino, decided to do a medical procedure known as cold therapy or hypothermia therapy that reduces the body’s overall temperature via an intravenous cold saline solution and thereby protected Everett’s spinal cord from further swelling and damage. The therapy was developed with a great deal of help from Dr. Barth Green, the president of the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis. Dr. Cappuccino called Dr. Barth after he started the cold therapy. Anyway, it was a risky decision but ultimately was a good move because despite his initial chances of walking being bleak or dismal Everett also went on to be able to walk again.

So LeGrand is currently in a tough spot to be sure. I still vividly recall being in his shoes fourteen years ago: the fear, confusion, frustration, uncertainty, etc. But working in his favor are the facts that he is a conditioned athlete and that he had his injury in a time where there are a litany of medical advancements in the world of SCI. I extend my support and sympathies to both he and his family and hope that he has a full recovery. With some luck he might even end up like Taliaferro and Everett.



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