It is funny how life has the ability to cross the paths of people who, under normal circumstances, would not have any reason to meet or know one another. One day you and another person are sworn enemies and the next day, the best of friends. Life takes sharp turns unexpectedly and nose dives at the drop of a hat.
Such is the story behind a Sports Illustrated feature story on three Florida men connected to each other by the game of football and a serious spinal cord injury that forever links their lives.
One teen did not even see the hit when it came. At 13, who sees anything, let alone a personal injury coming their way? The teen was a hulking junior high student and took to sports more than he took to his studies. Football was his passion. On a sunny fall day in October, 1979, the ball was snapped, each team charged at one another, andhe felt nothing until his neck made impact with the grass.
Several hours later, his eyes opened in the hospital — far away from where he was tackled on the field — where now he was awaiting paralysis treatment while being strapped into a Stryker frame, which is an old-fashioned rotating bed, for the damage to his C1, C2, and C3 discs on his spinal cord. Lucky for this teen, he was experiencing incomplete paralysis, just one of the several varieties of paralysis a person can be diagnosed with after a major spinal cord injury. Slowly and surely the teen was able to regain the feeling in his limbs and found the strength to walk out of the hospital after part of his hip bone was grafted onto his neck in a spinal fusion procedure. His back difficulties, however, were far from being over. Fourteen years after the initial injury, the teen broke his neck for a second time in a car accident and required another spinal fusion. To this day he still cannot turn his head, nor can he escape the back pains and pounding headaches the cripple him every three-to-four months. Mobile, yes, as well as permanently disabled for the rest of his life …
… And who was the guy that day on the field that hit this teen? An all around nice guy with a ten million watt smile, who himself had dreams of one day playing on Sunday in the pros. That is until he sacked this teen and gave him the spinal cord injury that almost left him paralyzed for life. From that point on, the nice guy turned shy and the wattage smile began to fade into a dim glow that people see only on the rarest of occasions. That teen quit football in high school, where he and the injured boy would cross paths in the hallways but never bring up one word about the nearly paralyzing accident. It wasn’t until college that the other football plater suited up once again to play some pigskin and find his groove as an athlete. It was October 26, 1985 when that teen football plater, playing for East Tennessee State against the Citadel, tackled a linebacker for the opposing team, using his helmet to hit the player in the lower back. The linebacker went down, herniated discs on his third and fourth cervical vertebrae, and his spinal cord turned into mince meat. For that same teen, now young adult, the shock and horror was all too real: he had done it again and this time, there was no chance for his target to recover …
… The man he tackled was a rambunctious young man who was on a wild streak in life, not paying attention to his future or his past, just focused on what was directly front of him. Most of his friends and family agreed that he was out of control and his life was heading nowhere fast. The young man got into football because he could just focus on the game at hand and not have to worry about the rest of life’s burdens outside the stadium. But when the this other young man’s hit came that fateful day, this young man was forced into a new future, a life with paralysis.
The hit left him a quadriplegic, meaning that he has lost all mobile functioning and sensation from his neck down. He can no longer live by himself, requiring an onsite nurse by his side twenty-four-seven.
For the latter half of the 1980s, the injured man thought that his paralysis was karma coming around to bite him for all of the pain and suffering he had inflicted upon his loved ones during his younger years. He forgot about everyone else involved in the accident that caused his spinal cord injury — his teammates, his coaches, the crowd — and became lost in his own thoughts. But never once did the thought cross his mind that a few years from down the line, that these other two people would find friendship and camaraderie in the unlikeliest way possible, centered specifically around his physical condition and the outlook for recovery of his paralysis.
This is part one in a five part story.
If you or a loved one have suffering a spinal cord injury, we urge you to contact our bilingual offices as soon as possible following the accident at 1-858-551-2090 or please click here for a free consultation with an experienced paralysis attorney. We handle all cases on a contingency fee basis, which means that you do not pay anything until we recover money on your behalf.