Updated 2:55 p.m. . . .
The odds of Johnathan Taylor walking again are not great. But there remains hope and, if anybody can do it, Georgia’s dynamic center fielder can.
That was the word from doctors at the Shepherd Center on Thursday morning. A news conference was held there to provide a medical update on Taylor, a UGA junior from Acworth whose neck was broken in an outfield collision with a teammate during a game against Florida State on March 6.
After an initial surgery by Dr. Kimberly Walpert at St. Mary’s Hospital in Athens to repair fractures of the C5 and C6 vertebrae in Taylor’s spine, he was transported to Atlanta’s Shepherd Center and remains a patient there.
“That’s a question we get on almost a daily basis, will he walk again?,” said Dr. Donald Peck Leslie, medical director at the Shepherd Center and one of Taylor’s attending physicians. “That’s not known at this time. Walking is a big goal for everybody who comes here. But at this time we can’t say that.”
Taylor is currently categorized as a tetraplegic, meaning all of his extremities have been affected by the injury. Taylor’s spinal cord was bruised but not severed, so there is a chance he can continue to recover. There remains hope that he might walk again one day.
“There is definitely optimism,” coach David Perno said. “If anybody deserves a miracle it’s Johnathan Taylor.”
After the news conference Leslie was asked about the general recovery rate of patients with such an injury. “A majority of people with this injury don’t walk, unfortunately,” he said.
But he said Taylor has made tremendous strides in the five weeks since he has been at Shepherd. He has regained movement in his arms and shoulders and is able to operate a manual wheelchair himself.
“He was having a great deal of respiratory trouble when he first got here, but complications now are few,” Leslie said. “He’s strengthening. He gets up and out of bed independently every day. He’s gaining strength every day. I think you’ll see in the future that his prognosis is very good.”
Taylor arises at 6 o’clock each morning in his room in the fourth floor at Shepherd and immediately heads to the gym for rehab.
“He’s a trained athlete; he wants to get to the gym,” Leslie said.
Taylor is expected to remain at Shepherd several more weeks. Eventually he’ll be discharged and continue his rehabilitation as an outpatient. Not surprisingly, expenses have been great.
Catastrophic injury policies provided by Georgia and the NCAA will cover Taylor’s medical needs for the next 30 years, according to Athletic Director Greg McGarity. Taylor will receive a lump-sum payment at the end of this year and receive monthly payments after that.
Meanwhile, the “Johnathan Taylor Fund” has been established by First American Bank of Athens to cover additional. Information for contributing to that fund can be accessed at georgiadogs.com. Donations will also be solicited at Georgia’s G-Day spring football game Saturday at Sanford Stadium.
“I don’t want to go into details but there are expenses that can run a lifetime that aren’t covered by insurance,” said McGarity, addressing the need to solicit additional funds. “This fund was established to defray those additional expenses. For instance, the insurance may provide for a special van, but it may not provide fuel and insurance for that can. Believe me when I say we stand behind our student-athletes, especially those in need.”
Taylor is the second Georgia baseball player in two years to suffer a serious spinal injury. Second baseman Chance Veazey severed his spinal cord in a motor scooter accident in October of 2009 and remains in wheelchair. Veazey’s medical expenses were not covered by the catastrophic injury policy because his was a, off-campus motor vehicle accident. However, a similar fund raised more than $500,000 for Veazey’s care, according to baseball team trainer Mike Dillon.
Taylor is the second Georgia baseball player in two years to suffer a serious spinal injury. Second baseman Chance Veazey severed his spinal cord in a motor scooter accident in October of 2009 and remains in wheelchair.
Perno said that experience and Veazey’s interaction with Taylor have helped them through the ordeal. Baseball team trainer Mike Dillon visits Taylor at least five days a week. Taylor’s mother Tandra is currently living in the residence hall at Shepherd.
Taylor and left fielder Zach Cone collided while diving for a sinking line drive in the third inning of a March 6 game against Florida State. Cone, who actually caught the ball on the play, suffered a concussion and a cut on his head and also left the game.
Taylor, a graduate of North Cobb High School, was a lead-off batter and a career .312 hitter for the Bulldogs. He had started 10 of 11 games in either center or left field and was hitting .182 this season at the time of the collision.
Georgia now wears a JT2 patch on its uniform and batting helmets. The Bulldogs (18-16) have gone 15-8 against the nation’s No. 1-rated schedule since Taylor’s injury.