Wide Receiver Fractures Spine in a College Football Game, Requires Spine Surgery

Devon Gales, wide receiver for the Southern Jaguars suffered a fractured neck during the game against Georgia on Saturday September 24th. Gales was attempting to make a block when he took a hot to his lowered his head. On impact, he fell to the ground, motionless. While he was carted off the field, the Southern University wide receiver could not move his arms or legs.

Mr. Gales was immobilized on the field and his neck and head placed in bracing to prevent further damage. He was immediately taken for surgical evaluation.

Devon’s injury underscores the fact that there are no trivial injuries to the spine. Any injury to the spinal cord or the bony, armored shield of the spinal column can lead to lifelong disability or death. Typically, injuries that occur closer to the skull, in the cervical spine, are the most serious. These carry a high risk of death or permanent paralysis from the neck down.

Two general kinds of injuries to the spinal cord exist: partial and complete. A partial spinal injury results in the tearing of some, but not all nerve fibers. The spine is completely severedin a complete spinal injury.

Fortunately, Mr. Gales’ cervical vertebrae (the bones of his spine) took the brunt of the impact, sparing his spine significant damage. When an injury is severe enough to fracture the tough bones in the cervical spine, one has to expect swelling, irritation, and edema in the neck. All of these can cause at least temporary neurological deficits, like temporary paralysis.

At this point, it appears as if the young man is slowly recovering—he has regained the ability to move is upper body and has moved some of his toes during tests.

The day after his injury, Mr. Galeshad surgery to address the fractures. Surgeons stabilized Devon’s neck so that additional damage to the spine would not occur. Surgeons also presumably took steps to reduce any impingements of the spinal cord and nerve roots. This type of stabilization surgery usually involves removing bone fragments, fragments of intervertebral discs, as well as any other debris that might cause pressure on the spinal cord itself. Removing pressure or debris from the spinal cord comprises surgery’s first priority.

In some cases, it’s necessary for surgeons to remove sections of vertebrae or entire discs that are pressing into the spinal cord. Then, stabilization hardware (rods, pins, and plates, for example) are implanted to keep the head and neck in line with the rest of the spinal column and to prevent any form of shearing. Shearing occurs when the head and body rotate too far, too fast, pressuring or even tearing the spinal nerves.

It can take days, even weeks, before spinal swelling recedes sufficiently for all movement and sensation to return to normal.Physical therapy will help him recover the ability to walk around and occupational therapy will help him regain the ability to use his upper body and hands in tasks that require gross and fine motor control.Devon Gales will likely require up to three months of spinal rehabilitation toregain neuromuscular function.

This event was extremely scary to watch. It reminds us that head and neck injury in impact sports is always a risk. We wish Devon a complete and speed recovery from his spine injuries.

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