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Doctors and other officials say Devon Gales is prepared to put in the work to make a full recovery from a spinal injury that left him partially paralyzed. A full recovery will take about a year.
"Devon is tough. He's sitting up in a chair right now. He's starting his therapy right now, he's jumping his shoulders. He was listening to his blues on his CD player. He's ready to go to work," said Roman Gage, Devon's godfather.
Southern University wide receiver Devon Gales suffered a spinal fracture in the game against Georgia on Sept. 26. He was taken to Athens Regional Medical Center where Dr. Kimberly Walpert performed a surgery the next day.
The former Central High standout was transferred Wednesday to the Shepherd Center in Atlanta for spinal cord injury rehabilitation. The 21-year-old will undergo a rehabilitation program with the help of medical and rehabilitation specialists in the hospital's Spinal Cord Injury Unit.
"To get in our doors, means that you've had a significant impact to your spinal cord," said Dr. Brock Bowman, MD, associate medical director of Shepherd Center.
Bowman, who is Devon's attending doctor, said he estimated at least about eight weeks for Gales' recovery in Atlanta. Devon's physical therapy will last about a year.
"He is going to walk out of this hospital. He asked for his medical red-shirt," said Gage. "Of course we're going to see how that works out, but he's ready to do the work."
Bowman could not speak specifically to Gales' prognosis but did commend the quick treatment by medical staff on the sidelines and in Athens. At this point, he said they don't anticipate any other neck surgeries being necessary as long as the first one heals properly.
"I don't know that the surgery was life-saving," said Walpert. "There's no question that the treatment on the field that he received from the sports medicine team was certainly life-altering. What he does here at Shepherd will be life-saving."
The surgery was to get the pressure of the spinal cord as well as stabilize the area of the neck. Walpert said the broken bone was removed and replaced along with hardware to act as a scaffold while Gales' neck heals. Bowman said the spinal cord was pinched which caused swelling which could take months to gradually go down.
According to Bowman, Gales' fracture was mainly at the C-6 vertebrae. He said Devon is a little bit stronger on his right side, which is his dominant side.
"C-6 means that you can move your wrists, and he has good movement at his shoulders and his biceps. Below that he's not moving as much," said Bowman. "There's roots of cervical number five that go to your shoulders as well as your biceps muscles. So those muscles are working fine, a little stronger on the right side than the left side.
"From there it drops off and gets very weak. He is able to move his wrists which allow you to potentially grab things, but he does not have individual finger movement at this point, and his triceps muscles, his ability to reach is weak."
Bowman said the doctors hope that over time more of Gales' lower function will improve with the right therapy, surgery and healing. But he said currently they are "focusing on him breaking the rules and hopefully improving a lot more over the next couple of weeks."
Bowman said that generally treatment starts at the injury level and progress from there. Doctors will begin to focus on getting Devon up and out of bed into a chair to maintain blood pressure, finding his center of gravity and balance through core muscles that aren't firing as well currently. Bowman said Devon's process will be step by step with different goals towards his recovery starting with getting into a chair and doing things at that level.
"We all take our independence for granted. The fact that we can get up in the morning, brush our teeth, shower, dress and go off to work. Those are some of the things we've had to re-establish first before we can get on to the next level of goals."
Kimberly August spoke on behalf of the Gales and Gremillon families, thanking the Southern university and community for their support as well as others nationwide.
"Whether you have sent an email, a plant, prepared a meal, said a prayer, called or text or made a donation toward Devon's medical expenses, the family wants to thank you," said August.
The family wrote a statement acknowledging the outpouring of support, mentioning several people who had helped since Devon's accident including Georgia head coach Mark Richt and his staff.
Ron Courson, Director of Sports Medicine with the University of Georgia, said he knew the injury was significant when Devon went down near the Bulldogs' sideline and that Devon said he didn't feel anything when Courson went to him. According Courson, both teams' medical staffs worked together to prevent no further harm while trying to transport him to getting the proper treatment.
Courson noted the great job Devon did on the field by staying calm and talking with the the medical staff throughout the whole process. August spoke of Devon being in good spirits and how he has been consoling others upset about his injury.
August encourage continued prayers for both the Gales family and the family of Georgia's Marshall Morgan, who was the other player involved in the accident.
"Because the accident has affected both young men and will change their lives forever," said August.
The family will also undergo some training to help Devon during his recovery until he is more independent.
In the family's statement, there was mention of guidelines needing to be set for future incidents and safety. August said that Devon recognized the opportunity to turn this incident into "a platform for people to have a discussion" about regulations in high school as well as on a collegiate and professional level.
"He loves the game of football. He wants to make sure that it's played in such a fashion where other kids are not injured, other professional athletes are not injured," said August. "So not that he's an official spokesperson for it, but he can speak firsthand about what needs to be done to protect our young people as they play the sport that we all love."
"Hopefully this is something that you don't see on a regular basis, but I think it underscores the need to have an emergency plan," said Courson. "And even though we don't see this on a regular basis, it's something we practice quite frequently so when you have something like this you can get the best care that you can."
According to Southern interim athletics director Roman Banks, a special jersey is being brought to Devon with the number 33 on it. The whole Jaguar football team will wear the uniform during their homecoming game.
"We hope to, with the approval of the family, on our athletic website to have updates as it's going forward. We also will do some other things through the year to try and keep that [awareness] alive and also just to do some things to let him know that we're thinking about him," said Banks. "So we planning on not letting our efforts cease right now and to continue to take it on and support this family all the way through.
Banks said that the fund set up by the Southern University System is in compliance with the NCAA. It will help assist the family financially, including covering medical expense.
Donations can be made online at the Devon Gales Fund website or mailed to the following address:
Southern University System Foundation
c/o Devon Gales Fund
PO Box 9562
Baton Rouge, LA 70813