Cooling Therapy Helps NFL Player Overcome Paralysis
Posted October 19, 2007
An experimental treatment – inducing hypothermia – has been helping a professional football player make a remarkable recovery from a paralyzing injury. Cooling therapy, also being used in Triangle hospitals, has made the recovery possible.
Buffalo Bills tight end Kevin Everett sustained a severe spinal cord injury in the season opener against Denver on Sept. 9. The third and fourth vertebrae in his neck were fractured, leaving him paralyzed.
"Not only do you wonder if they're ever going to walk again, you wonder if they'll actually going to be able to survive the injury," said Dr. Jeffrey Goldstein, with the New York University Hospital for Joint Disease.
But Everett's mother, Patricia Dugas, believed otherwise.
"He's going to show people that he's going to get up and walk out," Dugas said.
She could be right. Five weeks after his injury, Everett has developed enough strength to briefly hold himself up on a walker. He can also use his feet to push himself around in a wheelchair.
Everett's progress comes after weeks of difficult rehabilitation, but doctors said it was what they did in the first few hours after his injury most likely made the difference.
While transporting Everett to the hospital, doctors used an experimental strategy: They pumped cold saline into his body, inducing mild hypothermia.
Several Triangle hospitals use the same therapy for many heart-attack patients to prevent damage to the brain.
Everett's case showed that applying the therapy soon after injury may lessen damage to the spinal cord. After hypothermia treatment, surgery stabilized Everett's spine.
"By taking pressure off the spinal cord, it gives the opportunity to, first, have the cord heal and, second, to prevent further injury," Goldstein said.
The hypothermia treatment has given Everett his best shot at recovery, and more patients will likely benefit as other doctors use the experimental strategy.