ATLANTA — Devon Gales, the Southern University player who suffered a spinal injury in last Saturday’s football game against the University of Georgia, is able to move his shoulders and wrists but, at this point, is unable to move his fingers or lower body, his doctor at the Shepherd Center said Thursday afternoon.
In a news conference at the center, where Gales was transported on Wednesday afternoon, Dr. Brock Bowman said it’s still too early to make definitive assessments, but Gales has been moved from intensive care to the hospital floor where he will begin his rehabilitation program.
“(Gales) will potentially be here about eight weeks, possibly longer than that,” Bowman said. “It depends on how things progress. Neurological injuries progress very slowly, and we have to take it with patience and (go) step by step. He’s doing a great job so far, and the family appears to be upbeat.”
Bowman said Gales fractured his C6 vertebrae, in the base of the neck and which had been removed during a four-and-a-half hour surgery Sunday at Athens Regional Medical Center. Bowman said Gales has reported he senses some feeling in his legs, but it’s still too early for doctors to determine what that might mean.
“He’s been here less than 24 hours,” Bowman said. “Some of those assessments take time.”
The not-for-profit Shepherd Center, founded in 1975, is considered one of the top 10 rehabilitation hospitals in the country.
Gales, a wide receiver for Southern University, was injured while blocking on a kickoff return during the third quarter of the Jaguars’ 48-6 loss to the Georgia Bulldogs in Athens, Georgia. He was taken off the field on a stretcher and was transported to Athens Regional Medical Center.
Dr. Kimberly P. Walpert, who performed the surgery, said Gales had suffered multiple fractures.
Representatives of Gales’ family said the 21-year-old Baton Rouge native and Central High School grad is in strong spirits and ready to go to work on the lengthy rehabilitation process ahead of him, which Bowman said will continue for the “foreseeable future” and will likely last at least a year.
“Devon is a fighter,” his godfather, Roman Gage, said during the press conference.
Southern assistant director Earl Hill said, “While we’re so sorry this happened, he’s in the best place in the land to be, and he was only an hour away.”
Banks said football coach Dawson Odums will go to Atlanta on Friday to visit Gales. The Jaguars have an open date this weekend.
Gales has been visited by Georgia head coach Mark Richt on multiple occasions, and other Bulldogs representatives have seen him. They made him an honorary Bulldog and fitted him with Georgia gear. Georgia also paid for Gales’ parents — his mother, Amy Gremillion, and father and stepmother, Donny and Trish Gales — to travel to Athens.
Banks, who said Georgia has acted like Southern’s “big brother” since Saturday, is sending Gales a special Southern jersey. The Jaguars will wear navy blue jerseys and pants for the homecoming game against Prairie View on Oct. 17. A navy blue jersey with Gales’ No. 33 is on its way to Gales.
Gales’ coach at Central High School, Sid Edwards, said the 2013 graduate is “one of the best football players I’ve coached in my life.
“That times a hundred is the type of person he is, what type of human being he is, what kind of spirit he has,” said Edwards.
Although on the small side for his position — Southern officially lists the wide receiver as 5-foot-9 and 158 pounds — Edwards said Gales has been a “stick of dynamite” on the field, with a dogged work ethic and an infectious love for the game. Off the field, Edwards said, Gales is a truly special kid who developed a very personal relationship with the coach and his wife, Maureen Edwards, who taught Gales all four years at Central.
“I think there’s something special about him,” Sid Edwards said. “I could talk about that guy all day long.”
Bowman, who will help direct Gales’ treatment at the Shepherd Center for at least the next eight weeks, said Gales’ recovery will begin in a chair, and early rehabilitative work will focus on helping him become self-sufficient again and strengthening muscles as he regains movement.
“We’ve got to start at small steps and work our way up,” Bowman said.
Southern said Gales has received volumes of letters and cards from around the country. More than 100 arrived at the athletic department Thursday morning alone. Banks, the athletic director, said the Southern community will continue to stand by Gales as he continues to recover.
“I want us to be mindful that this is a long road for him,” Banks said. “Let’s not let this energy go to sleep in the next few hours. Let’s continue to pray for him, and let’s continue to support this family the best that we can through all avenues possible.”
Earlier this week, Southern established the Devon Gales Fund to provide financial assistance for Gales’ medical expenses. Donations can be made by visiting the Devon Gales Fund website at https:// netcommunity.sus.edu/the-devon-gales-fund and can be sent to the Devon Gales Fund, P.O. Box 9562, Baton Rouge, La., 70813.
Chris Starrs is a freelance writer reporting from Atlanta.