Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Derrick Thomas is paralyzed from the waist down after suffering two spinal fractures in a one-car traffic accident on an icy road in suburban Kansas City, Mo., on Sunday.
Thomas, one of the most feared pass rushers in the league, was transported yesterday from Liberty Hospital in Kansas City to the Ryder Trauma Center at Miami's Jackson Memorial Hospital, known worldwide for its treatment of spinal cord injuries. Thomas, a Miami native whose mother lives in the city, was accompanied by Chiefs President Carl Peterson and team physicians, according to Sarah Beckley, manager of public information for the Chiefs.
"It's a very severe injury," Peterson said in a statement yesterday.
Thomas's spinal column was fractured at the C-5 vertebrae level and in the thoracic vertebrae level, according to Beckley. Beckley said Thomas has use of his upper extremities and upper chest area. The Kansas City Star reported that a source close to the family said Thomas had reported feeling sensations in his toes. The paper also reported that Thomas had surgery late last night to stabilize the fractures.
Anthony Caputy, a neurosurgeon at George Washington Hospital in the District, said yesterday that use of limbs following spinal cord fractures depends on whether the injury involves a complete break or a partial break.
"You can have anything from complete paralysis with no movement and no sensation to a partial injury where there may be some sensation and some movement, or any combination in between," Caputy said.
"Complete injuries that last more than a day are more likely to be permanent. You know in a short time about the complete ones. The partial breaks can show some improvement over a period of time."
Thomas, 33, a nine-time Pro Bowl player, and friend Michael Tellis, 49, were thrown from the 1999 sport utility vehicle when it struck the median on I-435 outside the city and flipped several times during an afternoon ice storm, according to a spokesman for the Missouri Highway Patrol. Neither man was wearing a seat belt, and Tellis was pronounced dead at the scene, according to the Highway Patrol. The accident occurred around 1:30 p.m.
Another passenger, John Hagebusch, 34, of Raymore, Mo., received minor injuries. Hagebusch was wearing his seat belt at the time of the accident, according to police.
Thomas was on his way to Kansas City International Airport to catch a plane to St. Louis to attend the NFC championship game between the Rams and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when the accident occurred, according to Chiefs officials.
Thomas was the Chiefs' first-round selection in the 1989 NFL draft out of the University of Alabama.
He holds Kansas City's franchise record and ranks ninth in NFL history with 126 1/2 career sacks.
The accident was one of hundreds reported in the Kansas City area on Sunday as the clear, crisp winter afternoon turned into a nightmare for drivers who found roads suddenly slicked with a deadly glaze of ice and snow.
On another stretch of highway in the Kansas City area, a 24-vehicle pile-up killed 10 people and injured more than 40, according to the highway patrol.
Thomas is one of the most popular athletes in the Kansas City area, active in many local charities, including his "Third and Long" literacy program.
"God willing, all the initial reports will be off and he'll be okay," Chiefs center Tim Grunhard told the Associated Press. "Right now, I'm not concerned with Derrick Thomas the football player. I'm worried about Derrick Thomas the person."