Jan 29, 2015
A Cool Breakthrough

abbyfunk-head.jpgBy Abigail Funk

As Buffalo Bills backup tight end and special teamer Kevin Everett lay on the turf after colliding with a Denver Broncos kick returner last weekend in Buffalo, a worried silence went over the crowd. Everett lay motionless, while spectators, TV viewers, coaches, and players held their collective breath hoping to see any sort of movement.

And, as it turns out, the worst of nearly everyone’s fears was realized: Everett had suffered a severe spinal cord injury and was fighting for his life. However, thanks to a groundbreaking experimental medical procedure, there is hope that he will regain use of his extremities and may even walk out of the hospital. The following is a description of the innovative approach that has given Everett and his family hope for recovery. It’s a method that athletic trainers across the country may need to familiarize themselves with in the near future.
With a fractured and dislocated spinal cord in his neck, Everett was carted off the field on a stretcher and taken to the hospital via ambulance. In the ambulance, before the extent of the damage was known, Everett received
experimental cooling therapy
that put his body into a moderate hypothermic state–his body temperature fell to 92 degrees after a cold saline solution was injected into his system. The idea of this cooling therapy is to lower the body’s temperature to limit inflammation, thereby preventing further neurological damage.

The treatment is intended “to cool the tissue a few degrees to reduce its need for oxygen and to reduce its metabolic rate,” and also limit secondary damage from chemicals that the body releases after the initial inury, Dr. Elad Levy, a University at Buffalo neurosurgeon who treated Everett, told the Associated Press.

After surgery that night to repair damage to Everett’s third and fourth cervical vertebrae, Levy and a team of doctors decided to again use the cooling therapy as Everett’s body temperature began to rise Monday. A catheter carrying a cool saline solution was injected into Everett’s femoral vein, pumping the solution into his veins, not directly into his bloodstream.

Doctors say instituting proper protocol in the case of a spinal injury is of utmost importance, and that if first responders on the field in Buffalo hadn’t followed the correct routine, Everett would likely have been permanently paralyzed.

Physicians and researchers at The Miami Project, a Florida-based group conducting massive research over the past 20 years to find a cure for paralysis, were on the phone with the Buffalo medical team countless times over the past week. The Miami Project has helped pioneer the hypothermia treatment, and the Buffalo doctors needed their expertise throughout diagnosis, surgery, treatment, and now the beginning of Everett’s recovery.

Though Everett will never play on an NFL field again, at this point it looks like the odds are good he’ll walk again. As this column from the South Florida Sun-Sentinel notes, Everett’s recovery is important because it represents a victory in the fight against paralysis, a condition that affects thousands of people every year.

The Sun Sentinel‘s Editorial Board put it this way:

Everett certainly has a lot of rehabilitation ahead of him, and a long road to travel. But chances are now good that he’ll eventually be able to walk that road. His experience, and the work of The Miami Project, now gives hope to many others.

Abigail Funk is an Assistant Editor at Training & Conditioning.

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