Buffalo Bills tight end Kevin Everett, who suffered a spinal cord injury during a tackle in a game on September 9, may show up at his team’s home game against the New York Giants this weekend. It will no doubt be an inspirational moment for everyone. You will remember Kevin originally arrived at the hospital paralyzed from the neck down. He received very quick surgery by the Bills’ doctors, orthopedic surgeon Dr. Andrew Cappuccino and neurosurgeon Dr. Kevin Gibbons.
The question many people may ask themselves is “Why did Mr. Everett recover when so many others don’t?” Some will say his spinal cord injury wasn’t as bad as originally thought. Others will say it had to do with a controversial therapy, known as Hypothermia, where the body and spinal cord are chilled. Some will say it is a miracle.
No one could argue that Everett’s recovery is on track, and that’s a good thing. But as a neurosurgeon, I feel a wholesale endorsement of a highly controversial – and in medical literature, largely unproven — treatment (one that’s potentially quite dangerous – it’s linked to everything from infection and cardiac arrhythmias to pneumonia and organ failure) does warrant a little more discussion, which is why I am blogging about it.
First off, the Rehabilitation doctors at Memorial Hermann TIRR stated in a press release that Kevin Everett actually suffered from a Central Cord Syndrome, as opposed to a complete spinal cord injury. This is very important because we know the vast majority of patients (97 percent) with central cord syndrome do actually improve to the point of walking again (click here for more information). So, Kevin already had the odds in his favor.
And here’s what is incredibly striking. Kevin’s improvement and recovery began before the hypothermia was ever started. Dr. Gibbons – who was right there, treating Kevin alongside Dr. Cappuccino, and who had largely stayed out of the limelight during Kevin’s treatment — had this to say in a yet unpublished letter to the Editor of Sports Illustrated: “Kevin’s dramatic recovery of movement began before the placement of the Catheter and before effective cooling.”
So, why is this so important? Well, because many people around the country who have suffered a tragic injury to the spinal cord may point to hypothermia as the key to recovery. That may offer false hope. As with most things, it is not that easy. Of course, none of this really matters to Kevin, and I will tune in to see him walk at the game. It will be a great moment.