HOUSTON—Less than a month after Buffalo Bills tight end Kevin Everett suffered a life-threatening dislocation and fracture of his cervical spine that was predicted to leave him with permanent neurological damage, enthusiastic National Football League physicians attending him at Houston's Memorial Hermann hospital have announced that Everett will not only make a full recovery from injury, but will most likely gain the power of flight and soar out of the hospital under his own power.
"What we're seeing in Kevin's case is proof that the serious-injury recovery rate in pro football is nowhere near as serious as people have come to believe," Dr. Robert Homburg, a neurosurgeon assigned to Everett's case by the National Football League, said while pointing at the wings he had drawn on Everett's spinal X-rays. "Not only will Kevin be able to walk out of the hospital, he actually won't have to, as he will heal so completely that he will be better than he was before and will almost certainly be able to fly out unassisted."
"I don't think I'd be exaggerating Kevin's prognosis if I said we're looking at a 200% recovery here," Homburg added.
Just days ago, physician Teodoro Castillo, Everett's original physician, said the injury was "extremely severe" but that healing was progressing surprisingly well, pointing to Everett's ability to sit up without difficulty and even move his right arm slightly as evidence that he might someday walk without difficulty. Upon being told of Homburg's claims, Castillo said the recovery would be a "staged process of indeterminate length" and that flying was almost certainly out of the question.
"While it's true I have treated few players with Kevin's level of physical conditioning and mental resilience, I don't think it's fair for the NFL's doctor to tell him that he'll be able to fly," Castillo said Wednesday. "First of all, the trauma to his spinal cord was so extreme that we had to inject chilled saline into his body to induce healing. Second, no matter what Dr. Homburg says, people cannot just grow wings and fly, period, and to tell Kevin that is cruel. He probably won't even play football again."
Dr. Homburg said that, while he appreciated Castillo's cautious approach, he was only in partial agreement with his colleague.
"Sadly, I'm afraid it's true that Kevin will never play football again—the league cannot afford to give the Bills the sort of unfair competitive advantage a flying tight end would offer them," Homburg said. "It's a lot like how Steve Young and Troy Aikman had to retire when their concussions gave them telekinesis and the power to stop time. Still, for Castillo to just dismiss the idea of Kevin's more-than-complete recovery out of hand is cynical and unprofessional. Like many injury-related issues, while it may be based on sound medical practices, it goes against everything the NFL is about."
"Also, I should make it clear that I'm not saying Kevin will actually 'just grow wings and fly,'" he added. "It could be from magic, a rare form of spinal helicopter blades, or small jet boosters emerging from his feet. We have to keep an open mind about this."
Reactions to the news from around the league were mixed, with the NFL's front office sending Everett and Homburg their congratulations on his full recovery; players' union executive director Gene Upshaw saying that any further medical complications in Everett's case would be interpreted as the result of improper flight procedures and would result in the cancellation of his NFLPA benefits and pension, if any; and Everett's fellow Buffalo Bills players responding with a stunned silence born of disbelief and, presumably, joy.
For his part, Everett is determined to stay positive.
"I'm just taking things one day at a time," Everett said from his hospital bed, where he is preparing to begin physical therapy and doing his best to ignore the multiple news reports about his injury. "I heard that some league doctor had said some good things about me, and I guess that's nice. I'll walk out of this place, just you watch. But just between you and me, sometimes I think those NFL medical guys are a bunch of goddamn liars."