Adam Taliaferro, Cornerback for Penn State
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
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
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.