How 'Perfect' Care Saved an Athlete
Back on His Feet
"We've learned to meticulously care for the patient
from the moment of injury," says Staas, who cared for Taliaferro. "With
traumatic spinal cord injury, it's important to get steroids on board and
stabilize the neck so that the partial [paralysis] doesn't become
Lying on the field last Sept. 23, Taliaferro says he had no
idea he was paralyzed. All he knew was that his body wasn't listening to
"I couldn't feel anything on my body," he says.
"Everything was numb. I was trying to get up, and nothing was
Taliaferro had fractured the fifth cervical vertebra near the
base of the neck. Lucky for him, Wayne Sebastianelli, MD, Penn State's team
doctor, knew exactly what to do. Within minutes of the accident, he immobilized
Taliaferro's neck and body and got him into an ambulance, where the fallen
football player immediately was given intravenous steroids.
"If we sat down and planned the perfect system of care,
this man received it starting right on the football field," Staas tells
WebMD. "Everything that should have happened in the ideal medical
situation, he got and it worked."
Two days after the accident, Taliaferro had spinal
fusion surgery. The prognosis was grim. One doctor told Taliaferro's father
that the chance his son would walk again was 3 in 100. Taliaferro never heard
those odds. He knew he was badly hurt, but never considered not walking
"I found out during rehabilitation that the prognosis was
that I probably wasn't going to walk," he says. "Thank God that it
Weeks after the accident, Taliaferro was transferred to Magee.
Although he couldn't move his limbs, Taliaferro could distinguish between sharp
and dull, and knew which direction his toes were pointing. "That told us
that certain parts of his spinal cord were working," Staas says. He put
Taliaferro on a program to keep his joints from stiffening. When he regained
movement, the program switched to muscle-strengthening exercises.
In January, four months after the harrowing accident,
Taliaferro walked out of Magee on crutches. Today he walks without any aid, and
spends four hours a day at Magee working on building his endurance and balance.
He knows he will never play football again.
"I've recommended against it to him and his family,"
Staas says. "Emotionally, he's made that tradeoff of walking and not
Taliaferro hopes to return to the classroom this summer, and
says his doctor has told him he might be driving soon. He plans his first visit
back to Penn State on Feb. 23, to attend a basketball game. And while the
football team's defensive coordinator already has promised him a role on the
sidelines, Taliaferro has one more football-related goal.
"I'm working up to jogging so I can come up the tunnel for the first
game," he says. "We play Miami that first game, and I'm looking forward
Bob Calandra is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in
several magazines, including People and Life. He lives in