Less than four months after sustaining a severe spinal cord injury ending his 25-year career, former Buffalo Bills football player Kevin Everett returned to Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo Sunday. Even more incredible, got out of his wheelchair to greet his teammates in the lockeroom, even though his doctors initially wondered if he would ever walk on his own again.
ABC News' Dan Harris spoke with Dr. Teodoro Castillo of Memorial Hermann TIRR hospital at the University of Texas, who was Everett's personal physician during the months of treatment and rehabilitation in Houston.
DAN HARRIS: When Kevin first came to you, did you think he was going to walk again?
CASTILLO: Well, that is the first question a lot of people ask. When I first met him, I knew he had the movement in the legs, and he showed me he had good recovery just from the time he had the surgery to the time he got to our facility, so I knew he was going to walk again. But the type of walking, the quality of walking, that remained to be seen.
HARRIS: Are you surprised at how well he's doing?
CASTILLO: Yes, I'm surprised. Just because of experience from the past … Kevin has made significant gains. When he first got to us he … was still in bed most of the time. He depended on others for feeding, dressing, and those were his major limitations. After a week, he was able to sit up six to eight hours [a day] and about a week and a half [later] he started to stand with assistance from our therapists, and by the second week, he was able to make a few steps using a walker, and by the third week, to the time of discharge, he was walking on his own without using the walker. So that's the way he progressed. Currently, he is in the outpatient program and he's really doing well.
HARRIS: How far could this recovery go? Can he run some day?
CASTILLO: No. That's always going to be a difficult question. Right now, if you ask me at this point will he play football again? No, he is not there. In rehab, we have to reassess, focus on the goals, reassess every three months, six months. Cause nobody knows, nobody can predict. All we can go by is how much recovery he is showing so we always hope for the best. But I think he's going to be able to answer that question when we reach that point.
HARRIS: To what extent is recovery dictated by how determined the individual is?
CASTILLO: It's sad that we focus on the physical aspect and not the psychological aspect when someone gets injured. I believe that determination, willingness to get back and focus is really important. Even if you get good recovery, good muscle strength … if you don't have the willingness and the determination to focus you really won't progress.
HARRIS: How's his determination?
CASTILLO: Kevin is really doing well . When I talked to his mom -- he's always followed a rigorous training schedule and with that attitude, with his determination, family support, which he really has, and the team of clinicians he has to guide him and optimize his recovery, I think he will be successful.
HARRIS: So, one of the reasons he's done so well is because he's determined?
CASTILLO: There's no question. Because you can have the muscles, you can have the nerves that are functioning, but if you don't have the drive, the willingness to work and focus -- that's why when we have patients for rehabilitation the main important condition we have is do they have the psychological determination to participate, to succeed
HARRIS: So if you don't have the drive you won't go anywhere.
CASTILLO: I can make you exercise, but if you don't want to exercise, you're not ready to go to the next level.
HARRIS: And your sense is his head is in this game?
CASTILLO: The key to Kevin's success is the determination he's had, and the family support and a team of clinicians to guide him through - he has all the necessary ingredients to guide him to a good outcome.
HARRIS: When word was out that he was walking, was "miracle" overblown?
CASTILLO: It's hard to say. It's hard to compare one injury to the other. I handle a lot of patients with a similar level of injury, but did I see recovery? No.
HARRIS: So he's doing uncommonly well.
CASTILLO: I would say yes. … You have to consider it's only been 3½ months since he's been injured, and he couldn't move anything. All the way to now, he can walk and do basic self-care. So, is that amazing? You might call that remarkable for a 3½ month old injury. In our practice, we usually wait a year; it depends on the type of injury.
HARRIS: What do you think accounts for the fact that he had a serious injury, as others have had, and he's walking again. What's the difference here?
CASTILLO: I think it's everything. Because the key to his success is the way the quick response team responded. They stabilized his spine at the scene, the medical and surgical care he received in Buffalo and the rehabilitation he received at our facility. Those are the key things that helped him to recover. However, we're ignoring the determination he had to fight this injury, so I think the best one is really Kevin. Because Kevin really had, has the determination.
HARRIS: Are you surprised he made it to Buffalo?
CASTILLO: I had a feeling he would go. He asked me, can I fly to Buffalo, to visit friends. I'm really happy because he really wanted to do this, he wanted to thank the fans, not only the fans but the clinical staff who's been part of his care. He's been very private, and I respect his privacy, but I'm glad now he's comfortable, trying to live and start the rehab process. He just has the right attitude and family support. Everything went well for Kevin.