How 'Perfect' Care Saved an Athlete
Back on His Feet
Feb. 19, 2001 -- With less than two minutes left in the game,
Ohio State's football team held a commanding 45-6 lead and was running out the
clock. The ball was snapped and handed off to a 231-pound running back.
On the other side, freshman Penn State defensive back Adam
Taliaferro, 18, saw that the play, an end sweep, was coming right at him.
"I knew he was a big back, so I decided that I was going to
take his legs," Taliaferro remembers of the game last fall. "He was
running at a slow pace, and then he sped up. My head was at the wrong place at
the wrong time. His knee hit the top of my helmet, and snapped my head
downward." And then, darkness.
At the stadium and on TV, tens of thousands of horrified fans
watched the incident and its aftermath. Taliaferro awoke and opened his eyes,
and saw doctors and trainers looming over him. He tried to get up, but his body
didn't respond. He could move only his eyelids. As word spread that he might be
paralyzed, people on the sidelines began to weep. But Taliaferro doesn't
remember the collision. The last thing he recalls is locking the Buckeye bull
in his crosshairs.
Every year, 10,000 Americans are partially or completely
paralyzed by spinal cord injuries. An overwhelming majority (81%) are young men
15 to 33 years old injured in automobile crashes, acts of violence, or falls,
according to the Spinal Cord Information Network. Sports accidents account for
7.1% of all spinal cord injuries.
There have been "miracle" recoveries, but the diagnosis
of a spinal cordinjury usually means life in a wheelchair. Fortunately for
Taliaferro,doctors determined his spinal cord was bruised but not severed.
Othersaren't so lucky: For every Christopher Reeve, the actor who was paralyzed
ina horseback riding accident and remains upbeat and sure that a cure is
near(and has written twice to Taliaferro), thousands of others
remainemotionally devastated by their injuries. But those who do spinal
cordresearch -- work that was begun in earnest approximately two decades ago
--now say they see reason for hope.
"The whole system is doing better," says William
E. Staas Jr., MD, president and medical director of Magee Rehabilitation
Hospital in Philadelphia, where Taliaferro was treated after leaving Thomas
Jefferson University Hospital. "The quality of recovery and life is much,
much improved. And we will continue to make progress."
There is extensive research on therapies to help people with
what are called "complete" injuries -- complete in that the person
cannot function. Still, scientists like Naomi Kleitman, PhD, of the Miami
Project To Cure Paralysis, say that while there is a lot of hope and even good
preliminary results, nothing looks like a cure.