Kevin Everett voluntarily moved his arms and legs on Tuesday when partially awakened, prompting a neurosurgeon to say the Buffalo Bills' tight end would walk again — contrary to the grim prognosis given a day before.
"Based on our experience, the fact that he's moving so well, so early after such a catastrophic injury means he will walk again," said Dr. Barth Green, chairman of the department of neurological surgery at the University of Miami school of medicine.
"It's totally spectacular, totally unexpected," Green told The Associated Press by telephone from Miami.
Green said he's been consulting with doctors in Buffalo since Everett sustained a life-threatening spinal cord injury Sunday after ducking his head while tackling the Denver Broncos' Domenik Hixon during the second-half kickoff of the Bills' season opener.
Everett dropped face-first to the ground after his helmet hit Hixon high on the left shoulder and side of the helmet.
Everett remains in intensive care at Buffalo's Millard Fillmore Gates Hospital and will be slowly taken off sedation and have his body temperature warmed over the next day, Green said. Doctors will then begin taking the player off life support systems — including a respirator — currently controlling his body functions.
"It's feasible, but it's not 100 percent predictable at this time ... he could lead a normal life," Green said.
On Monday, Bills orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Andrew Cappuccino, said Everett likely wouldn't walk again.
"A best-case scenario is full recovery, but not likely," said Cappuccino, who operated on the reserve tight end. "I believe there will be some permanent neurologic deficit."
Cappuccino was not available Tuesday, and hospital spokesman Mike Hughes declined comment.
In a report Tuesday evening, Buffalo's WIVB-TV quoted Cappuccino as saying: "We may be witnessing a minor miracle."
Bills owner Ralph Wilson said the team has been in contact from the beginning with Green and the Miami Project, the university's neurological center that specializes in spinal cord injuries and paralysis.
"I don't know if I would call it a miracle. I would call it a spectacular example of what people can do," Green said. "To me, it's like putting the first man on the moon or splitting the atom. We've shown that if the right treatment is given to people who have a catastrophic injury that they could walk away from it."
The encouraging news might have come as a surprise to many, but not to those who know Everett well.
Al Celaya, who coached Everett at Thomas Jefferson High in Port Arthur, Texas, was confident his former player would battle through.
"When faced with any adversity, Kevin is going to put out the effort, he's going to work hard and he's going to find a way to win," Celaya said. "I think Kevin will be that kind of person, because that's the kind of person he's always been."
Intending to play basketball, Everett was persuaded by Celaya to give football a try. Some nine years later, and after two seasons at the University of Miami, Everett was Buffalo's third-round pick in the 2005 draft.
"He overcame a lot of odds to do that," Celaya said.
Green said the key was the quick action taken by Cappuccino to run an ice-cold saline solution through Everett's system that put the player in a hypothermic state. Doctors at the Miami Project have demonstrated in their laboratories that such action significantly decreases the damage to the spinal cord due to swelling and movement.
"We've been doing a protocol on humans and having similar experiences for many months now," Green said. "But this is the first time I'm aware of that the doctor was with the patient when he was injured and the hypothermia was started within minutes of the injury. We know the earlier it's started, the better."
Cappuccino said Monday that the 25-year-old did have touch sensation throughout his body, showed signs of voluntary movement and was able to breathe on his own before being sedated. But he cautioned that Everett's injury remained life-threatening because he was still susceptible to blood clots, infection and breathing failure.
Green noted that Everett and Wilson have ties to Miami and the Miami Project — Everett played there and Wilson is one of the project's largest donors.
"It's an amazing group of circumstances. It's a home run. It's a touchdown," Green said.