NAME: Adam Taliaferro
SPORT: College football
TEAM: Penn State Nittany Lions
INJURY: Bruised cervical spine
OTHER ATHLETES AFFECTED:
Curtis Williams, Washington (safety); Ryan Raymond, Washington State (offensive tackle).
Adam Taliaferro came to Penn State from Voorhees, N.J. He is 18, weights 183 pounds and is 5 feet, 10 inches tall. This is his freshman year at Penn State.
HOW IT HAPPENED:
On Sept. 23, with less than two minutes left in an already disastrous away game at Ohio State, Taliaferro tried to tackle Ohio's 231-pound running back, Jerry Westbrooks, on Penn's 16-yard line. His head hit Westbrooks' knee and snapped backward, injuring the column of nerves that make up the spinal cord running down his neck. He was rushed to Ohio State University Medical Center. The game ended as Coach Joe Paterno's worst loss in 35 years, with Ohio State winning 45-6. As for Taliaferro, who doesn't remember getting injured, he could not move his legs or fingers.
WHAT'S INVOLVED WITH TREATMENT:
All the activities in football -- running, tackling, catching, and the like -- require the brain to tell different parts of the body to move. These signals going from the brain to the muscles are called the motor signals, and the nerves that carry them are called motor nerves. These signals travel from the motor portions of the brain, down through the nerves in the spinal cord, and connect with other nerves that tell different muscle groups what to do. (It's similar to a call traveling through the phone lines until it connects to the right telephone, but instead of telephone poles supporting the cord, the body runs its cable through bones called vertebrae.) Taliaferro was lucky that he did not cut his spinal cord, which would have made it unlikely that signals from the brain would be able to reach the connector nerves below the injury. This leads to a paralysis of those portions of the body.
Taliaferro is now in a rehabilitation center close to his house. But it took more than a month of treatment just to get him this far. After the accident, he first had to be transported to the intensive care unit at the Ohio hospital in a way that prevented body movement, which can cause further injury. Doctors are learning, however, that even with the patient immobilized to prevent further damage, the body's own reactions to a damaged spinal cord actually can cause more damage to occur. After a spinal accident, much of the initial treatment focuses around lessening some of the body's chemical reactions to the injury. Large doses of steroids are often used to control the swelling that can damage the spinal nerves. Other medicines may be used to help the body shed some excess fluid, so it can't build up as much and continue to hurt the nerves.