For Everett and Bills, A Long Recovery Awaits

It’s the first thing they teach you. Peering out of his helmet cage, an eight-year old who has never played football before will receive the same tips from his Pop-Warner coach that the pros get on their first day of training camp: “When you’re tackling: burst, shimmy, and explode. But remember guys, you have to keep your head up. ALWAYS keep your head up.”

It’s fundamental. But sometimes fundamentals are momentarily forgotten. Basketball players miss lay-ups, baseball players miss pop-flies and last weekend, Buffalo Bills reserve tight end Kevin Everett forgot to keep his head up when making a tackle on the opening kickoff of the second half. Everett raced down the field, made contact and immediately fell motionless to the ground.

There was nothing anyone could do. No one was at fault. There was no dirty hit, and it is unlikely that any extra equipment could have saved him from serious injury. As the athletic trainers gave way to the paramedics, the stadium fell silent and both teams gathered on their sidelines to pray for the motionless Everett. As the paramedics quickly and carefully loaded the stretcher into an ambulance, the Bills players reported that they had waited with bated breath for Everett to give them a “thumbs up” sign to indicate that he was ok. They would never get that sign.

The game resumed, and while the Bills were suffering a defeat at the hands of the Denver Broncos, Everett was undergoing emergency surgery on his spine. That night, it was reported that Everett’s injury was both “catastrophic” and “life- threatening.” Dr. Andrew Cappucino, the man who performed the emergency surgery on Everett, told the press that he thought a full recovery was unlikely. He also told the press that he did not think that Everett would walk again.

Then, just two days later, new developments took place that made the situation seem slightly less bleak for Everett. Dr. Cappucino took Everett off of some of the sedatives he had been using and Everett was able to make small, voluntary motions with his arms and legs. His recovery is being attributed to an innovative and experimental treatment called “modest hypothermia.” Dr. Cappucino told the press that modest hypothermia had never before in medical history been induced so quickly. The strategy of the treatment is to reduce body temperature in the spinal region to approximately ninety-two degrees Fahrenheit. This prevents swelling on the spine from getting worse and allows the damage to be minimized. This new treatment, along with tremendous care from a team of remarkable doctors, allowed Everett’s situation to improve. Currently, Everett has control of three of his fingers and doctors now believe he will one day walk again.

The recovery process will not be easy for Everett and he will never play football again. His teammates wanted to remember him this weekend when they played the Pittsburgh Steelers, so a special T-Shirt was designed by the team captains to be worn under the pads of all the Bills in their game. On the back was Everett’s name and number, and on the front was a picture of the Bills huddle with the words “team, belief, faith, strong, together and hope,” written around it. The captains believed that these words were important to Everett and the team, especially in an extremely difficult and trying time.

The Bills lost their game to the Steelers 26-3. They were not able to come up with a win for their fallen teammate, but some issues transcend wins and losses. For Everett and the Bills, the road ahead is very long. Everett will endure a lengthy recovery and the Bills will continue their 2007 campaign with heavy hearts. In just a few short seconds, Kevin Everett’s world, and the world of many of his teammates, was altered forever. While many things were changed, some things remained the same. Bills Captain Brian Moorman said this week, “It’s important for all of us to believe and stay positive for him and for us and for his family.” In that regard, the advice of the Pop-Warner football coach still holds true: “Remember guys, you have to keep your head up. ALWAYS keep your head up.”