Buffalo Bills tight end Kevin Everett reportedly had voluntarily movement in his arms and legs on Tuesday, less than 24 hours after being told he would likely remain paralyzed.
Everett, 25, moved his extremities when partially awakened, prompting consulting neurosurgeon Dr. Barth Green to believe that he will walk again.
"Based on our experience, the fact that he is moving so well — so early — after such a catastrophic injury means he will walk again," said Green, chairman of neurological surgery at the University of Miami.
"It is totally spectacular, totally unexpected … it's feasible, but it's not 100 per cent predictable at the time, but it's feasible he could lead a normal life."
Green's assessment runs counter to the grim prognosis put forth Monday by orthopedic surgeon Dr. Andrew Cappuccino, who rated Everett's chances of a full recovery as "bleak, dismal."
But in a Tuesday interview on Buffalo's WIVB-TV, Cappuccino said: "We may be witnessing a minor miracle."
"I don't know if I would call it a miracle," Green said. "I would call it a spectacular example of what people can do.
"To me, it's like putting the first man on the moon or splitting the atom. We have shown that if the right treatment is given to people who have a catastrophic injury that they could walk away from it."
Everett underwent spinal surgery after suffering a life-threatening spinal-cord injury during Sunday's season-opener at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
Cappuccino and Dr. Kevin Gibbons fused the third and fourth vertebrae, removed loose debris, and eased pressure on the spinal cord during the four-hour procedure, which involved a bone graft plus the insertion of a plate with four screws and two rods.
Put in hypothermic state
But Green credits Everett's ability to move his limbs to Cappuccino's running an ice-cold saline solution through his system, putting the injured player in a hypothermic state.
Demonstrations at the University of Miami have shown that it significantly decreases damage to the spinal cord.
"This is the first time I'm aware of that the doctor was with the patient when he was injured and the hypothermia was started within minutes of the injury," Green said. "We know the earlier it's started, the better."
Everett was hurt when he hit kick returner Domenik Hixon with his helmet during the third quarter of Buffalo's season-opening 15-14 loss to the Denver Broncos.
Everett is in intensive care at Buffalo's Millard Fillmore Gates Hospital and breathing with the aid of a respirator, but has experienced touch sensation throughout his body and exhibited signs of movement.
Even sedated, he remains susceptible to blood clots, infection and breathing failure.
Everett was primarily a blocking tight end, catching two passes for four yards in 17 games since being selected by Buffalo in the third round of the 2005 NFL draft.
He suffered a season-ending torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during his first pro training camp, and was used sparingly last season because of a lingering groin injury.