These have been days and nights of relentless fear and sadness for those who know and love Tulane University safety Devon Walker, but Monday finally brought an inspiring glimmer of hope for the young man many across the nation have been praying for: Walker is "alert and responsive," according to Tulane athletic director Rick Dickson.
On Saturday, the senior from New Orleans suffered a broken neck delivering a hit near the end of the first half of a game against Tulsa. The crown of his helmet collided with that of a teammate as the two tried to make a tackle, and it was clear Walker was seriously injured. "We quickly realized it was a significant event," Dickson said Monday.
Medical staff from both teams rushed the field and worked on Walker for more than 20 minutes before an ambulance took him from the stadium. Several coaches were in tears as a prayer was led inside the Tulsa stadium.
Walker was transported to nearby St. Francis Hospital, where on Sunday he underwent three hours of surgery to stabilize his spine. Tulane team doctor Greg Stewart told ABC the procedure was "very successful."
"[The paralysis potential] is certainly a concern," Stewart told the Tulsa World, "We don't know what the ultimate outcome is going to be."
As with any severe spine injury, hours are long and dicey and reveal frustratingly little. It will be days or weeks before we'll know Walker's prognosis. He remains in stable condition in the ICU, with significant swelling around his spine. But late on Monday, Dickson shared a touching story on a Tulane conference call.
Although Dickson could not give much in the way of a medical update, he said Devon "has not lost his sense of humor."
Dickson shared a story of a conversation he had with one of the nurses about something very important to the 21-year-old, three-year letterman: his hair. "I told [Devon] one of the things that almost occurred was [a nurse] cutting [his] hair," Dickson said. "I wanted him to know I put up a fight."
Dickson said Walker glanced up from his hospital bed and "gave me that look: 'Really? Did she really say that?' "
Then he smiled.
Asked if Walker's hair was cut, Dickson gave a vociferous, "No!"
The story will be sure to lift the spirits of teammates and fans, as a smile shows important progress in the first days after a catastrophic neck injury. A Tulane website for Walker has been flooded with messages of support. There's even a webpage where well-wishers can donate to Walker's long-term care.
Walker's parents, Booker and Inez, released a statement saying, "We have been overwhelmed by the amount of concerned well wishes we have received from all over the world. Although we cannot respond individually to all, we thank everyone for the love and support shown to Devon and our family. The medical care that our son has received so far has been outstanding."
Walker is majoring in cell and molecular biology. His mother was watching the game on television when the injury occurred, but she and Devon's father are now in Tulsa with their son.
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