Everett 'Has a Long Way to Go'

By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 13, 2007

Buffalo Bills tight end Kevin Everett has regained some movement in his legs but little in his arms and none in his hands, his doctors said yesterday, indicating they didn't expect him to walk soon but were guardedly optimistic he might be able to someday.

The two surgeons who performed a four-hour emergency operation on Everett after he suffered a life-threatening spinal cord injury during Sunday's game against the Denver Broncos tempered the optimism generated by reports that Everett had made dramatic and surprising progress and might walk soon.

They said during a news conference in Orchard Park, N.Y., that Everett would remain in the intensive care unit of a Buffalo hospital for the foreseeable future. Everett was taken off a respirator yesterday but it was unclear if he would be able to continue to breathe on his own, the doctors said, adding that no further surgeries were planned but they were possible if complications arise.

"The patient has made significant improvement, [but] no one should think the function in his legs is normal," said Kevin Gibbons, an associate professor of neurosurgery at the University of Buffalo. "Not even close. He has no function in his hands. . . . If you ask me if he would walk again, I wouldn't bet against it. [But] he has a long way to go."

Orthopedic surgeon Andrew Cappuccino said Monday, the day after participating in Everett's operation, that it was unlikely Everett would ever walk again. On Tuesday, there were reports that Everett's progress had led Cappuccino and other doctors involved in the case to become significantly more optimistic that Everett would regain something close to the full use of his limbs. Barth Green, the chairman of the department of neurological surgery at the University of Miami school of medicine and a consultant to Everett's doctors, told the Associated Press that Everett's quick progress was "totally spectacular, totally unexpected" and meant he would walk again.

Cappuccino said during yesterday's news conference that he was "cautiously, slightly more optimistic" about Everett's chances of eventually walking.

"We still are looking at a many weeks to months scenario," Cappuccino said. "Walking out of this hospital is not a very realistic goal, but walking may be. . . . My hope is that he will walk again. But I can only base my opinions each day on the clinical evaluation of the patient."

Thom Mayer, the medical director of the NFL Players Association, was similarly guarded.

"I am cautiously hopeful that's the case," Mayer said in a telephone interview of the possibility of Everett walking again. "That's a bad injury. He's certainly not out of the woods yet. He's not going to play football again. He's probably out of the woods with regards to survival. In terms of full neurological function, there are still some hurdles. But every sign is optimistic right now."

Gibbons said Everett was in a quadriplegic state after his injury but by Monday morning was able to push his knees together on command. His doctors placed him under sedation, but when the sedation was lifted briefly Tuesday, Everett also could wiggle his toes, move his ankles slightly and kick out his lower leg with his knee elevated, Gibbons said. Yesterday, Everett could bend his hip to bring up his leg slightly. But he's had little arm movement and no function in his hands, according to Gibbons.

Everett is awake and alert but is being fed through a tube, his doctors said. His breathing is to be tested today and doctors remain wary of potentially fatal blood clots, infections, gastrointestinal bleeding and pulmonary problems.

"That is a chronic life-threatening state," Gibbons said.

Mayer said Everett received expert care on the field immediately after suffering his injury and en route to the hospital. The NFL and players' union put a rule in place "four or five years ago," Mayer said, that a doctor trained in spinal cord injuries must be on the sideline for every game, and the medical team in Buffalo recently had conducted a run-through on how to treat a player with such an injury.

"It was instantly recognized that this was a grave, life-threatening injury and it was treated as such by Dr. Cappuccino and the paramedics," Mayer said. "The first rule is, 'Do no harm,' and they did no harm. They stabilized his head. They rolled him over because he'd landed face-down. They did a superb job of stabilizing the spinal cord as they rolled him over. The patient benefited in this case from very careful planning and perfect execution of that planning."

Everett's mother, Patricia Dugas, has been at his bedside since Monday afternoon and told the AP yesterday she's confident that her son will recover.

"He's going to be fine," she said. "I really believe it."

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