Originally published 9/9/2017. Updated 2/11/2022
Ten years ago today, September 9th, 2007 was going to be a day just like any other in Buffalo Bills history. It was the season opener for the Bills against the Denver Broncos. It was the first game for Marshawn Lynch and Paul Posluszny and a slow start into the 2nd season of the Dick Jauron era. The Drought was 7, going on 8 years after that season, and still to this point hasn’t stopped. But on this date in 2007, TE Kevin Everett of the Buffalo Bills nearly died on the field of Ralph Wilson Stadium.
At the beginning of the 2nd half kickoff, Everett was running downfield, attempting to tackle kick returner Domenik Hixon. Hixon collided with Everett’s head and Everett collapsed to the ground. Here is a clip that recounts the moment. Up to that point, Everett was a 3rd-year backup TE and special teams player. He had only recorded 2 receptions for 4 years in his career.
Upon impact, Everett sustained direct compression to the cervical spinal cord. Initially, the hit paralyzed him and at that moment, nearly killed him. Upon falling to the turf motionless, Everett sustained a dislocation of the cervical vertebrae at C3-C4.
As the spinal cord travels through the cervical vertebrae, the dislocation is compressed directly on his spinal cord. If left untreated, could have killed him. To understand how severe this injury could have been, the phrenic nerve is the nerve that innervates the diaphragm, assisting in breathing. The phrenic nerve is comprised of C3, C4, C5 within the cervical spine. This is right where the injury occurred. If that nerve was to be severely damaged or severed, the body would lose the ability to breathe.
The cervical vertebrae that were injured maintain neck posture, supporting the weight of the head. This allows bending forward/backward, rotation, and side bending of the neck.
Since the vertebrae dislocated over the vertebrae below it, this placed significant pressure on the spinal cord. This leads to immediate disruption to the functions below the area and without quick action, could cause lasting injury. The only reason this injury was not worse was the fact that there was not a severance of the spinal cord, leading to irreparable damage.
In another era, Kevin Everett possibly would have died, at worst, being a paraplegic, due to the damage sustained. Thankfully, he received immediate assistance and was rushed to the hospital. Any delay in getting to the hospital with the proper facilities could have meant drastically different outcomes.
Thankfully, due to the quick thinking and resources, Dr. Andrew Cappuccino assisted in stabilizing the injury and applying cold therapy to the body. This is very similar to placing ice on a sprained ankle after injury. The idea is that if cold is applied to the spinal cord, this reduces the chances of immediate swelling to the injured area, leading to limited long-term damage.
Cappuccino’s theory appeared to work in the days following the injury. While Everett’s prognosis was initially grim, it rapidly improved once the surgery was completed to stabilize the cervical region. On December 23rd, he was able to eventually walk when the Bills hosted the NY Giants at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
With quick thinking by the right doctors, the lack of spinal cord severing, and determination, Everett was able to regain walking and a significant portion of his mobility. Many others in a similar situation may have died or been paralyzed for life. Everett, unfortunately, has lingering issues such as neuropathy in his extremities due to the nerve damage of that day. While he can walk, strength deficits still persist that force him to take extra time for transfers and walking.
It is hard to believe that it is 10 years since Kevin Everett sustained his neck injury. There are not many articles regarding life for Everett following his injury. Most articles state that he has begun raising his family with his wife and participated in speaking engagements. The Buffalo News did an article on Everett and his family several years ago, detailing the long-term effects of the injury. His book is also available, Standing Tall, which I highly recommend.
As time passes, this slowly becomes a footnote in history. My goal with today’s post was to bring it to the forefront, even just for a brief moment. As a physical therapist and fan, I pray this never happens to any player again. As fans, we know that football is a violent sport; there are risks both short and long term. (Regrettably, later in the 2017 season, Steelers LB Ryan Shazier suffered a lumbar spinal cord injury on a tackle that ultimately led to his career ending prematurely. He, fortunately, has regained his ability to walk as well.)
It is important that we recognize that a player’s career and possibly even life, could end in a moment on the field. As we all sit down to watch the Bills home opener against the Jets on Sunday, remember Kevin Everett and the events of 10 years ago.