ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. —Buffalo Bills tight end Kevin Everett took another step in an improbable recovery from a life-threatening spinal cord injury, walking around Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sunday in a new pair of Gucci boots.
Everett was last seen in the stadium Sept. 9 during the Bills’ season opener, when he was carted off the field in an ambulance, paralyzed from the shoulders down.
Before Sunday’s game against the Giants, Everett visited teammates who had not seen him in three months, since his initial confinement to a bed at Millard Fillmore Gates Circle Hospital in Buffalo.
“He was the same guy,” Bills tight end Robert Royal said, “full of energy, full of fun.
“I want to say he stood up for an hour, hour and a half at a time.”
Everett remained to watch the Giants (10-5) clinch a playoff berth with a 38-21 victory. The Bills (7-8) will miss the playoffs for the eighth consecutive year.
Afterward, Everett, 25, who was not available for interviews, met Giants receiver Domenik Hixon in a suite upstairs at the stadium.
“He looked great,” Hixon said. “We just had some casual conversation.”
For Hixon, 23, it was the culmination of an anxious week in which he had difficulty sleeping. He last met Everett near the 20-yard line, in a violent collision.
Hixon, playing for the Broncos at the time, was returning the opening kickoff of the second half when Everett made what appeared to be a routine tackle. Lowering his head just before impact, Everett struck his helmet on Hixon’s helmet and shoulder pad. He immediately collapsed face down to the turf and lay motionless for about 15 minutes while he was tended to by medical personnel.
According to doctors, Everett was conscious and alert on the field but was unable to move his extremities. He was immobilized using a back board and taken by ambulance to the hospital, where he underwent four hours of surgery by a team of doctors to relieve direct compression to the C3 and C4 vertebra in his neck.
Doctors realigned his neck and stabilized it in front with a titanium plate. The rear was secured with titanium screws and short rods.
On the ride to the hospital, Dr. Andrew Cappuccino, an orthopedic spinal surgeon, began implementing a controversial cold therapy treatment, pumping ice-cold saline solution into Everett’s veins.
Cappuccino says it was a major contributing factor in Everett’s unlikely recovery, but the treatment has divided the medical community.
Since his injury, the fortunes of Everett and Hixon have taken turns that few could have predicted, which in a strange coincidence led to their meeting Sunday.
Everett has continued to defy doctors’ early predictions for his recovery. Dr. Cappuccino, who operated on Everett, first described his chances for a complete recovery as “bleak or dismal,” meaning Everett would never walk again.
But Everett showed steady improvement during the first several days in the hospital. When he arrived, he was considered quadriplegic, meaning he had no voluntary muscle function in his arms and legs.
The day after his injury, he was able to push his knees together about half an inch. Three days later he could touch his knees together, wiggle his toes and move his ankle and arms. By the end of the week, Everett was moving his fingers. A week after his injury, Everett was no longer on a Ventilator and could sit up, speak and eat.
On Sept. 21, less than two weeks after his injury, Everett was transferred to Houston, where he lives during the off-season, to begin Rehabilitation at Houston’s Memorial Hermann Hospital.
He has since begun walking and continues his rehabilitation as an outpatient at the hospital.
Meanwhile, Hixon had been following Everett’s progress through news reports, but he did not reach out to him.
Hixon was waived by the Broncos after three games and later signed with the Giants. He played primarily on special teams against the Bills and did not appear on the statistics sheet.
He says he has struggled to return his attention to football after his collision with Everett. He was especially nervous about re-entering Ralph Wilson Stadium and the flood of memories it would release.
Standing in the locker room after meeting with Everett on Sunday, Hixon reflected on how his fortunes, too, have improved since Everett’s injury. He has wound up on the Giants, a team headed for the playoffs.
Several of his new teammates and coaches asked him during the week how he was holding up as he prepared to play the Bills again and possibly meet Everett. Afterward, he sounded drained but relieved.
“I wouldn’t say it’s 100 percent closure,” Hixon said. “I just want to continue to see him get better.”
By MATT HIGGINS