NFL Evolution  


Green Bay Packers' Jermichael Finley recounts spinal cord injury


Jermichael Finley might have suffered the scariest injury of the season. The Green Bay Packers tight end was taken off the field on a stretcher after a helmet-to-helmet hit on Oct. 20 left him motionless.

Finley was diagnosed with a spinal cord contusion, and that had him spending time in the intensive care unit of a Green Bay hospital. He recounted the 24 hours after the injury for, from his fears lying on the field to his time in the hospital.

Is this God punishing me? Is this Karma? This was my initial thought when I was down on the field. I felt as if everything that I had ever done wrong came crashing down at me at that one moment.

It all happened very quickly. I remember seeing the defender out of the corner of my eye, and I intentionally lowered my head and shoulders to protect my knees. After I got hit, in the fourth quarter of our win against the Browns last week, my eyes were wide open. I was very conscious, but I could not move. I looked my teammate Andrew Quarless directly in the eye and whispered, "Help me, Q. I can't move; I can't breathe." The scariest moment was seeing the fear in Q's eyes. I knew something was wrong, but his reaction verified it. That really shook me up.

I actually had feeling in my legs, but I couldn't feel much else. On the field, the doctors were going through regular procedures, testing me on sense and touch, and asking me a multitude of questions. But because I was a little panicked, I couldn't breathe, which made it very difficult to answer. I remember one of the doctors telling me to "close my legs," and I simply could not. They ended up unscrewing my facemask before lifting me up on the stretcher. When I was exiting the field at Lambeau, I tried to raise my hand to give the fans a thumbs-up, but I got about halfway and couldn't raise my arm any further. I kept asking the neurosurgeon, "Will I walk again?" His answer was a definitive, "Yes, you are moving your legs right now." Then I asked, "Will I use my arms again? Will I play football again?" To those questions, I simply got, "I cannot answer that yet."

Finley said upon entering the ICU, it felt frenetic. He was even told by a doctor that the tight end's presence in the ICU was causing problems because of all the visitors.

He said there was fear he would need immediate spinal cord surgery, but those fears where assuaged when his CT scan came back negative Sunday night. All the while, he said, it was tough to breathe and speak.

On Monday, I began to feel much better. I had started to regain motion, and I was actually able to stand up and shower for the first time since the game. My balance and coordination were still a bit off, which was alarming, but they came back as the hours passed. My grandma and father-in-law flew in from Texas, and a couple members from IFA (my agency) came in from Minneapolis. That night, I transferred into a regular patient unit, and I think about half of my teammates and coaches came to the hospital to visit me. I felt so blessed and appreciative. I've certainly been through my fair share of ups and downs in Green Bay, but it was really amazing to feel the love and support from my teammates, coaches and fans during this 48-hour period. It means more to me than I could ever explain.

I underwent a series of exams (CT scan, MRI, X-Ray, etc.) to determine the extent of the injury. Monday afternoon, our team doctors and my agent sent out copies to a half-dozen spine experts around the country. It may have looked like I had another concussion, after suffering one in Cincinnati last month, but it turns out the injury is what doctors have called a spinal cord contusion. The blow shocked my spine, and left me with a two-centimeter bruise on my spinal cord that should heal in time.

My medical treatment to this point has been superb, and the Packers and my agent have been working together to determine how outside medical experts view this injury, how previous cases have been handled and what the next steps of action should be. Right now, the recovery timeline is still uncertain, so we don't know yet if this injury will end my season. Obviously the most important thing for me right now is to rest, and to let the contusion heal. After that, I will most likely go visit a handful of specialists around the country for thorough second and third evaluations of my neck and head. One thing that I know is that I am in great hands. I have a tremendous support system and this incident only made that clearer. I am blessed.

While he tries to recover from this injury, Finley revealed he has a $10 million disability insurance policy in place, should an injury end his career. However, he doesn't plan to retire after this injury.

Of course I plan to play football again. This is what I love to do. I love the game. I love Sundays. Based on the feedback I've received from doctors at this point, the question is not if I'll play again, but when. There is no better feeling in the world than making the "Lambeau Leap" into the stands, and I fully intend on having that surreal feeling again soon. I will do everything in my power to rehab and get back to the player I have been, and improve into the player I know I can be.

Do I have fear? Of course I do. It's impossible not to have fear given what I've gone through over the past four weeks. I've worked my entire life to do what I do on that football field, and it's a very scary feeling being taken off the field on a stretcher. No matter what's said about drops or any off-the-field stuff, the one thing no one can question about me is how hard I work to be a great football player. I want this. I need this. It's everything to me. It's a scary thought knowing I could have left that field on Sunday never being able to strap up my helmet again, let alone walk.

Today, I feel better. I feel like I was in a bad car accident, but each day I'm improving. My motor skills, coordination and balance are all back to normal. I'm getting anxious sitting around all day, but I know my neck is healing. I am confident that I will be part of a new case study of players who returned to football successfully after suffering neck and head trauma. Just like we see every year with ACL recovery, anything is possible when you combine drive and commitment with a tremendous support system and team, and amazing advances in science and medicine.

-- Bill Bradley, contributing editor



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