Miracle cure: How creative should doctors be in treating devastating conditions?

Standing tall: On the Dec. 17 cover of Sports Illustrated, Buffalo Bill tight end Kevin Everett was standing tall after a medical miracle following a season-opening week hit that looked to leave him paralyzed.
Standing tall: On the Dec. 17 cover of Sports Illustrated, Buffalo Bill tight end Kevin Everett was standing tall after a medical miracle following a season-opening week hit that looked to leave him paralyzed.Courtesy Sports Illustrate
It’s one of my favorite times of year – no, not tax preparation season – but the NFL playoffs. And while the hot question on everyone’s mind is if New England can keep it’s perfect season intact, a real miraculous story has sifted by virtually unnoticed.

The big headline out of the NFL’s opening weekend back in September was the devastating, and seemed-to-be-paralyzing hit that Buffalo Bills tight end Kevin Everett suffered while covering a kick-off. He was carted off the field on a backboard and the early prognosis was that he’d spend the rest of his days in a wheelchair.

Today he’s up and walking. The final week of the season he made a post-game appearance in the Bills’ locker room. While his days of playing football are likely over, the prognosis is strong that he’ll be able to live a “regular” life as he continues on with rehab efforts. Unaided, he can slowly walk the length of half a football field.

That’s all great news. But the process that got him so healthy so fast has created a buzz in the medical community. Doctors working on his case took some chances that paid off big time. The big question is whether there will be a climate to allow medical researchers to study the impact and effectiveness of this unusual treatment.

Everett’s incredible story was told in a 10-page story in the Dec. 17 issue of Sports Illustrated. I’ll try my best to summarize the matter in a few paragraphs.

Everett cracked helmets with a Denver Bronco player while covering the kick-off to open the second half of the season-opening game. The collision made a fracture dislocation in his neck along with spinal cord damage.

Less than two weeks earlier, Dr. Andrew Cappuccino had been at a spinal cord injury refresher class at the Bills’ training complex. He was on the sideline when the hit happened. Little did he know a new concept he heard about at the class would come into play so soon.

While Everett could not move his extremities following the hit, Cappuccino did detect a slight reaction in one leg when he applied pressure. That told him it wasn’t a complete severing of the spinal cord in the hit.

Along with conventional treatments, Cappuccino used a new treatment to help Everett that he had heard about at the class. After the initial surgeries, hypothermia was induced in Everett’s body to put him into a coma. Such treatment has been successful in stroke and brain injury recovery, but hadn’t been tried on spinal cord injuries.

Within hours, the tight end was able to slightly move his thighs against the doctor’s hands. The cooling treatment was continued for about a week and Everett’s rapid recovery continued.

The doctor went with his gut feeling and the outcome has been a success. But it wasn’t a lock-sure hunch. Cappuccino readily admits that there are those in the medical community who think he’s a sort of Dr. Frankenstein experimenting on humans.

Clinical trials conducted on the treatment could help back up his hunches. But the doctor also said he realizes that there might be few patients willing to volunteer for the conventional treatments that are part of such trials when there are prospects for such success from the experimental part of the trial.

What do you think of all of this? Was this doctor out of line to try such an unproven treatment? Is the clinical trial process too long and complicated to give medical professionals room for creative treatments? How would you feel about all of this if you faced the prospect of being paralyzed for the rest of your life? Share your thoughts here in the Science Buzz community.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Russ Johnson's picture
Russ Johnson says:

Having suffered a similar injury to Kevin's a year and a half ago, I'd believe the first rule is to "do no harm." As a medical layman, I'd guess the cold therapy would come under that category. I just had the steroid treatment at the time of injury, which I'm sure helped to minimize swelling of the spinal cord. But I can tell you my recovery isn't the same as his. I am unable to walk without a walker, though I'm good for maybe 1000 fet or so. I might graduate to a four point cane in time. But walking three paces without assistance is impossible for me. I strongly believe the cold therapy helped Kevin greatly, and I'm glad it was available to him.

posted on Fri, 02/15/2008 - 1:31am

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