Bills punter Brian Moorman stood on the sideline desperately waiting for teammate Kevin Everett to get up or show any sign he was OK. When the reserve tight end failed to do so as he was immobilized and carefully loaded into an ambulance after sustaining a severe spinal cord injury, Moorman knew it was serious.
“It brought tears to my eyes,” Moorman said Monday, recalling how a day earlier he watched helplessly during the Bills season opener against Denver, hoping for the best, but fearing the worst.
Those fears were confirmed Monday when the team’s orthopedic surgeon, Andrew Cappuccino, announced Everett will unlikely be able to walk again after sustaining a “catastrophic” and life-threatening injury.
“A best-case scenario is full recovery, but not likely,” said Cappuccino, a day after he spent four hours in surgery reconstructing Everett’s fractured spinal cord.
“By life, I’m an optimist,” Cappuccino added, when asked the chances of Everett regaining full movement in his body. “But as a scientist and a clinician, I have to tell you that, statistically, the chances of that occurring are very small.”
For Moorman, Everett’s injury brought back memories of watching on TV when Mike Utley, the former Detroit Lions guard, injured his neck and was paralyzed below the chest after a collision during a game in 1991.
Utley, Moorman recalled, at least was able to give what’s become a famous “thumbs up” sign as he was taken off the field.
“That’s what I was waiting for, and that’s what everybody else was waiting for,” Moorman said, his voice cracking with emotion. “And to have to walk back to the sideline and not see that made for a tough time.”
Everett was hurt after he ducked his head while tackling Denver’s Domenik Hixon during the second-half kickoff. Everett dropped face-first to the ground after his helmet hit Hixon high on the left shoulder and side of the helmet.
Everett is in the intensive care unit of Buffalo’s Millard Fillmore Gates Hospital, where he is under sedation and breathing through a respirator as doctors wait for the swelling to lessen. Cappuccino said it will take up to three days to determine the severity of the injury and the recovery process.
Cappuccino noted the 25-year-old did have touch sensation throughout his body, showed signs of voluntary movement and was also able to breathe on his own before being sedated. But he cautioned that Everett’s injury remained life-threatening because he was still susceptible to blood clots, infection and breathing failure.
During surgery, Cappuccino repaired a break between the third and fourth Vertebrae and also alleviated the pressure on the spinal cord. In reconstructing his spine, doctors made a bone graft and inserted a cage and a plate, held in by four screws, and also inserted two small rods, held in place by another four screws.
Doctors, however, weren’t able to repair all the damage.
Buffalo’s 2005 third-round draft pick out of Miami, Everett missed his rookie season because of a knee injury. He spent most of last year playing special teams and was hoping to make an impact as a receiver this season.
The injury drew sadness from Washington state, where Utley now makes his home, to Miami.
“You do everything you can to prepare yourself. But this can happen,” Utley told The Associated Press. “I’m sorry to see this young man got hurt.”
“He was the first kid I coached at Miami,” added Florida International coach Mario Cristobal, who was Everett’s position coach with the Hurricanes. “It sucks. Brutal. Brutal. I didn’t know his condition worsened to what it had, and all you want is to get as much information as you can.”
In Buffalo, the Bills are challenged with having to refocus to prepare for a game at Pittsburgh on Sunday.
“We honor ourselves by our work, and we honor Kevin by moving forward and working while never forgetting Kevin and never getting him out of our thoughts and prayers,” coach Dick Jauron said. “We’re going to wait and see what the outcome is here and we’re really hoping and praying for the best.”
By JOHN WAWROW, AP Sports Writer