A rea­son to be thank­ful

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - Kather­ine.dunn@balt­sun.com twit­ter.com/ kdunnsun

St. Frances wide re­ceiver Tyree Henry, at the Kennedy Krieger In­sti­tute, suf­fered a spinal cord in­jury in a game against Gil­man on Oct. 7.

When St. Frances wide re­ceiver Tyree Henry stepped out of the front door at Kennedy Krieger In­sti­tute in East Bal­ti­more on Tues­day for the first time in almost six weeks, he could only de­scribe the feel­ing as “joy and ex­cite­ment.”

Henry put one foot in front of the other with­out think­ing much about it. He headed to St. Frances for a brief visit be­fore rid­ing home to the Eastern Shore, where a big tur­key din­ner in­clud­ing his fa­vorite sweet potato casse­role awaits at his aunt’s house today.

Mak­ing it home in time for Thanks­giv­ing is “won­der­ful tim­ing” for the 17-year-old, who has been hos­pi­tal­ized since suf­fer­ing a trau­matic spinal cord in­jury in a foot­ball game Oct. 7.

As he lay on the turf at Gil­man, Henry thought he might never walk again. He couldn’t move or feel any­thing.

Even though feel­ing be­gan to re­turn a lit­tle be­fore he was taken by am­bu­lance to Si­nai Hos­pi­tal, he couldn’t stand by him­self for a few weeks and he had to learn how to walk all over again. By all ac­counts, his re­cov­ery has been re­mark­able.

“For some­one who’s high-func­tion­ing and an ath­lete as Tyree is, such a fast re­cov­ery is not en­tirely unan­tic­i­pated, but it’s pretty mirac­u­lous how­fast it’s been, the pro­gres­sion from the first night be­ing here to now,” Dr. Eboni Lance, a pe­di­atric

neu­rol­o­gist who treated Henry, said re­cently.

The day it hap­pened

Af­ter the in­jury, Henry never lost con­scious­ness. He re­mem­bers ev­ery­thing.

“I caught the ball and I ran. I was on [Gil­man’s] side of the field. I hit him and we went head-to-head and I lost feel­ing in my hands and ev­ery­where,” he said. “I thought I had a stinger, but then I re­al­ized that I couldn’t move any­thing. It was pretty scary. It took awhile for feel­ing to come back.”

St. Frances coach Henry Rus­sell said the play was a short pass to pick up a few yards, but that Henry, at 6 feet 5, 230 pounds, isn’t easy to take down. Henry broke one tackle and was fight­ing to break an­other when the hit stopped him. The con­tact, hel­met to hel­met, was un­in­ten­tional.

“I saw them tackle him,” Rus­sell said, “and I’m on the head­phones and one of our coaches says, ‘I think Tyree might be hurt.’ I get over there and he’s talk­ing and at first, he says, ‘I think I just got the wind knocked out of me.’ Then he says he can’t feel his hands and you hear the panic in his voice. I knew right then, this is some­thing that could re­ally be se­ri­ous.”

Rus­sell was afraid fear and shock would over­come Henry as the train­ers, coaches and Gil­man’s doc­tor at­tended to him. But, for Henry, the panic and thoughts of be­ing par­a­lyzed dis­ap­peared the mo­ment he heard his mother cry­ing.

“I tried to keep my­self calm, to keep my fam­ily calm, my mother and my fa­ther,” Henry said.

His mother, Michelle Pritch­ett, and his fa­ther, Tony Henry, had come to see him play as they al­ways did, trav­el­ing from the Eastern Shore af­ter their son trans­ferred to St. Frances over the sum­mer from Stephen De­catur, near his home in Ber­lin.

They were closer to the play than Rus­sell was.

“It was the worst feel­ing I ever had,” Pritch­ett said, “prob­a­bly be­cause I know how much he loves foot­ball and I know how much it means to him. He couldn’t move any­thing. It was a mom’s worst night­mare. I started cry­ing and he heard me and he said, ‘I’m gonna be OK.’ ”

When Henry didn’t get up, his par­ents be­gan to pray.

“I just started pray­ing like I never prayed be­fore,” Tony Henry said, “and when I walked back over to him af­ter we fin­ished pray­ing and he said, ‘OK. Thank God. I can feel it. I feel my legs. I feel my legs,’ I just started bawl­ing. I was think­ing, ‘I know where help comes from and I’m grate­ful.’ ”

The road to re­cov­ery

Henry’s jour­ney to get back onto his feet be­gan as feel­ing grad­u­ally re­turned to his Rachel Wil­hide, a phys­i­cal ther­a­pist at Kennedy Krieger, works with Tyree Henry. “Ev­ery day you saw great progress, more strength, bet­ter mus­cu­lar con­trol. ... He’s pro­gressed very quickly,” she said. For a video of Henry, go to bal­ti­more­sun.com/var­sity. ex­trem­i­ties that night. Hewent from Si­nai to Johns Hop­kins Chil­dren’s Cen­ter the night of the in­jury, and five days later he moved to Kennedy Krieger to be­gin re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion.

Although he didn’t suf­fer a par­a­lyz­ing in­jury, Henry’s di­ag­no­sis was ex­tremely se­ri­ous. He wore a cer­vi­cal col­lar to sup­port his spine un­til he was dis­charged Tues­day.

“His in­jury was mainly in the cer­vi­cal spine area, the up­per part of the spinal cord,” Lance said. “Ba­si­cally, the cord was show­ing some swelling and the pos­si­bil­ity of com­pres­sion in that area — prob­a­bly from the col­li­sion, the im­pact. So, some of the blood sup­ply to the cord may have been cut off, but also there was some in­jury from the im­pact as well.”

Phys­i­cal ther­a­pist Rachel Wil­hide said Henry was weak when the re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion process started at Kennedy Krieger. She be­gan with ba­sic things such as hav­ing Henry move around in bed and sit up. The first day he stood up at the edge of his bed, he needed two peo­ple to sup­port him.

When he started walk­ing, he used a walker as well as a har­ness. Be­ing 6-5 made it a bit more chal­leng­ing to re­cover his bal­ance. With such a high cen­ter of grav­ity, he needed more strength and con­trol to stay steady and keep from sway­ing like a tall build­ing, Wil­hide said.

“We use a lot of repet­i­tive tasks, a lot of elec­tric stim­u­la­tion to get all that in­put into the ner­vous sys­tem to reteach it and re­learn how to walk, re­learn how to do ev­ery­thing,” she said. “Ev­ery day you saw great progress, more strength, bet­ter mus­cu­lar con­trol. His bal­ance was very im­paired at first … but he’s pro­gressed very quickly.”

As an ath­lete, Henry was used to phys­i­cal train­ing and was al­ways raring to go, some­times want­ing to push him­self too far.

“Foot­ball prac­tice is harder than phys­i­cal ther­apy,” he said with a grin.

An­other fac­tor in Henry’s quick re­cov­ery has been his pos­i­tive at­ti­tude.

“I got in­jured be­fore and the ‘why me’ mo­ments are over with,” said Henry, who has had a bro­ken tibia and a torn ACL in the past three years. “I un­der­stand ev­ery­thing hap­pens for a rea­son. You just have to get over it and over­come it.”

At Kennedy Krieger, Henry in­spired just about ev­ery­one around him. Chil­dren in the phys­i­cal ther­apy room loved him. He spent time with them and en­cour­aged them. One boy re­fused to leave with­out a pic­ture of Henry. A girl made him a wo­ven bracelet in St. Frances col­ors; black, yel­low and white.

“Tyree is a man of few words, but all the kids grav­i­tate to him and it’s so heart­warm­ing,” Rus­sell said. “I had par­ents come up to me and say what a great kid he is. The se­cu­rity guard said, ‘Tyree is our own lit­tle celebrity.’ In my opin­ion, God has a plan for ev­ery­one and Tyree’s prob­a­bly im­pacted morepeo­ple than the rest of us put to­gether.”

The St. Frances team ded­i­cated its sea­son to Henry. He wore No. 4 and they raised four fin­gers to salute him be­fore and af­ter ev­ery game. Sev­eral times, the team gath­ered in the lobby at Kennedy Krieger to watch its games with him. The No. 1 Pan­thers went on to fin­ish 10-2 and win the first Mary­land In­ter­scholas­tic Ath­letic As­so­ci­a­tion A Con­fer­ence cham­pi­onship in pro­gram his­tory.

“I think he had ev­ery­thing to do with that cham­pi­onship,” Rus­sell said. “He had as much to do with it as any­one did. He was truly an in­spi­ra­tion to the team.”

The fu­ture

For Henry, whoalso played bas­ket­ball, the only goal is to get back onto the field. He has drawn the at­ten­tion of Divi­sion I col­lege coaches and aims to play in the NFL.

Lance didn’t rule it out, say­ing, “At the rate that he con­tin­ues to progress, I’m hope­ful that there’s not go­ing to be any­thing that he can’t do.”

Both his par­ents sup­port his am­bi­tion to re­turn to the game.

“I’ll be OKbe­cause I pray,” said his fa­ther, who re­mem­bers 2-year-old Tyree watch­ing a foot­ball game on TV as if he un­der­stood ev­ery move.

“If he wants to play foot­ball, I want him to play. I don’t want him to look back on it and say, ‘Dad, I should have done this.’ I want him to do what he wants to do, but he also un­der­stands — and we talked about it a long time ago — the risk, the risk in foot­ball of in­jury, con­cus­sions. But I think ev­ery­thing’s go­ing to be OK.”

Henry can’t run yet and he needs more ther­apy. He said it’s up to his par­ents when he should re­turn to class at St. Frances in East Bal­ti­more, where he boards. For now, he’ll go back to watch­ing foot­ball on TV.

For­tu­nately, there will be a few games to watch in the com­fort of his aunt’s home today as he and his fam­ily give thanks that he can walk to their din­ner ta­ble.

LLOYD FOX/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

LLOYD FOX/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

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