Ful­mer pushes on de­spite se­ri­ous foot­ball in­jury

The Covington News - - Sports - By Ja­son Mur­dock

Oc­to­ber 27, 2007, was se­nior night for the New­ton High foot­ball team — an op­por­tu­nity des­ig­nated to rec­og­nize ac­com­plish­ments be­fore the home crowd one last time.

But se­nior Andrew Ful­mer never en­vi­sioned be­ing rolled out on the field in a wheel­chair, es­pe­cially since just one week ear­lier he was the start­ing de­fen­sive tackle for the Rams.

Ful­mer sus­tained a highly se­ri­ous limb threat­en­ing in­jury on Oct. 20 against M.L. King when an op­pos­ing player crashed head-first into his right knee, dis­lo­cat­ing it and caus­ing a sev­ered per­oneal nerve.

In fact, the ac­ci­dent was so se­ri­ous doc­tors told him they needed to un­dergo im­me­di­ate surgery, and that there was a pos­si­ble chance of am­pu­ta­tion.

Those­words alone are enough to make any­one un­com­fort­able, let alone a 17-year-old kid who goes from play­ing a game he loves to never play­ing it again.

“Yeah, I was a lit­tle ner-

vous,” ad­mit­ted Ful­mer, “but I just tried to keep think­ing good thoughts.”

Play Ac­tion

Ac­cord­ing to New­ton coach Nick Collins, it was the first time he had ever seen that type of in­jury on the foot­ball field.

“That may have been one of the most sick­en­ing feel­ings I’ve ever had as a coach,” said Collins. “We were try­ing to sub (Andrew) for some­one else for a pass­ing sit­u­a­tion, but the guy who was sup­posed to go in for him was hav­ing his hel­met re­paired. Andrew had to go back on the field, so tech­ni­cally he wasn’t even sup­posed to be on the field for that play.”

Ful­mer, who holds no ill-will about the in­ci­dent, de­scribed the play which would ul­ti­mately change his life for­ever.

“The guy was run­ning with the ball on a sweep, and I was try­ing to take an an­gle to get af­ter him,” re­called Ful­mer. “I was look­ing (one) way and then turned to see this guy go­ing to block me. Af­ter that, I fell and was in im­me­di­ate pain.

“I know he didn’t mean to do it,” he added. “It just hap­pened; it’s part of the game.”

Andrew’s mother, Kim, re­called the mo­ment it hap­pened — she had a feel­ing and sense of dread no mother ever wants to ex­pe­ri­ence.

“We knew a player was down,” she said. “My hus­band and I were look­ing and say­ing, ‘Where’s No. 63? Where’s No. 63?’ And then (some­one) said, ‘That’s Andy,’ so then you just have to sit there and wait. “But he didn’t get up.” Orig­i­nally, Ful­mer thought he had bro­ken his leg. Af­ter all, it wasn’t the first time he had been se­ri­ously hurt on the grid­iron. Twice Ful­mer has sus­tained shoul­der in­juries, forc­ing him to sit out his eighth grade year and once again as a sopho­more in high school.

This time around, how­ever, was a dif­fer­ent story.

“The amaz­ing thing to me was his com­po­sure,” said Collins. “The tough­ness he showed re­ally amazed me.”

The game was stopped for ap­prox­i­mately 25 min­utes. As for Kim, it seemed as if her heart had stopped al­to­gether. Af­ter wit­ness­ing train­ers and coaches call for more help, she was al­ready on the field run­ning by the time the am­bu­lance had reached her son.

Ask­ing him re­peat­edly what was wrong, Andrew replied, “Mom, it’s OK. My knee hurt at first, but now I think it’s OK.” But things weren’t OK. In fact, Andrew was in shock. So when Kim was warned not to look be­cause there had been a de­for­mity, and as paramedics ap­plied a large splint to his leg, her shock sank in.

“I’m think­ing, God,’” she said.

Un­der the Knife

‘Oh, my

Pressed for time based on the se­ri­ous­ness of the in­jury, Ful­mer was rushed to DeKalb Med­i­cal Cen­ter.

“The guy said we’d be lucky to get in there be­fore he comes out of shock,” said Kim.

Ten min­utes af­ter ar­riv­ing at the hospi­tal, Andrew’s shock wore off. How­ever, two large in­jec­tions of mor­phine helped al­le­vi­ate the pain, if only tem­po­rar­ily. He then un­der­went an ur­gently needed arthro­gram to make cer­tain he did not have a vas­cu­lar in­jury. He did not; how­ever, Andrew did lose all mo­tor func­tion re­lated to per­oneal nerve in his lower ex­trem­ity.

It wasn’t un­til Nov. 12 when Ful­mer would meet his sur­geon Dr. John Xero­geanes (Dr. “X”), Chief of the Emory Sports Medicine Cen­ter at the Emory Ortho­pe­dics and Spine Cen­ter.

“It’s fairly rare,” ad­mit­ted Xero­geanes of the type of in­jury, adding that he only sees two to four cases such as this out of ev­ery 600 to 800 knee in­juries each year.

Be­fore that, the Ful­mers had con­sulted three sep­a­rate or­tho­pe­dic physi­cians, each de­clin­ing the case based on the sig­nif­i­cance of the in­jury.

“I still never un­der­stood the se­ri­ous­ness of it un­til we were at about the third doc­tor, who looked at us and said, ‘I can’t do this,’” said Kim.

Ac­cord­ing to Xero­geanes, this type of in­jury usu­ally oc­curs twice a year in a train wreck or car wreck, and the leg is typ­i­cally lost.

“Th­ese can be

dif­fi­cult op­er­a­tions,” said Xero­geanes. “(This) was bad be­cause he tore a nerve that con­trols and lifts the foot up. It’s very close to ma­jor ar­ter­ies in the back of the knee, so if you’re not used to do­ing that it makes for a dif­fi­cult op­er­a­tion.”

Prior to un­der­go­ing surgery, Kim did her best to keep things at bay for her son.

“I (was) try­ing to keep it light for his sake,” said Kim. “Dr. ‘X’ then came in and said, ‘Wow, you sure are lucky — you should have lost your leg. You and I are go­ing to be best friends; we’re go­ing to take care of this to­gether.’”

Help­ing along the way was also Jen­nifer Se­abolt, phys­i­cal ther­a­pist as­sis­tant at New­ton Med­i­cal Cen­ter.

“We saw Andrew prior to the surgery try­ing to help strengthen (and) pro­vide more sta­bil­ity in the knee so when he did have the surgery, he didn’t come back so weak,” said Se­abolt.

On Nov. 30, Ful­mer un­der­went surgery to per­form the re­con­struc­tion; it took nearly seven hours.

“He’s a great kid,” said Xero­geanes, who is also head or­tho­pe­dist and team physi­cian for Ge­or­gia Tech, Emory Univer­sity and Agnes Scott Col­lege. “He un­der­stood it would be a long, tough in­jury, but he said, ‘I need to do what it takes to play sports again.’”

For Ful­mer, the mag­ni­tude of the en­tire process did not sink in un­til the sec­ond night he was home from the hospi­tal.

“I was like, ‘Things are go­ing to be dif­fer­ent from now on, so you’ve got to get through this.’”

Past, Present and Fu­ture Out­look

Since the ac­ci­dent, things have in­deed been dif­fer­ent for Ful­mer, and he is still learn­ing to ad­just on a daily ba­sis.

When he was first in­jured, Ful­mer missed about a week of school. But when he re­turned, though still in a great deal of pain, his teach­ers were more than ac­com­mo­dat­ing, al­low­ing him to catch up on any missed work.

“I’m deal­ing with it quite well, ac­tu­ally,” said Ful­mer. “My fam­ily and friends espe- cially have been more than help­ful, in­clud­ing my doc­tors and teach­ers.”

Ini­tially he was con­fined to a wheel­chair; then he used crutches for three months. He just started driv­ing two weeks ago. Be­fore, a friend picked him up for school and other ac­tiv­i­ties.

Three days a week Ful­mer is re­quired to un­dergo phys­i­cal ther­apy at New­ton Med­i­cal Cen­ter.

“Post-op­er­a­tively we saw Andrew and have been fol­low­ing a spe­cific pro­to­col set aside by his physi­cian,” said Se­abolt, who has been by his side through­out the en­tire process. “We’re only al­lowed to progress him at cer­tain in­cre­ments, ac­cord­ing to what the pro­to­col is, and be­cause of the ex­tent of his in­juries we’ve had to go much slower.

“But Andy’s do­ing in­cred­i­bly well,” she added. “He’s a su­per pa­tient who does not go out­side of what his rec­om­men­da­tions are.”

For now, Ful­mer — who still has 12 to 18 more months of phys­i­cal ther­apy — must wear a pro­tec­tive knee brace at all times to main­tain sta­bil­ity. He fol­lows a ba­sic home ex­er­cise pro­gram that also helps strengthen the leg.

On Wed­nes­day, doc­tors will de­ter­mine when a sec­ond surgery to aug­ment Andrew’s mo­tor func­tion of his lower ex­trem­ity will take place.

Whether or not he will re­cover full use of his leg is yet to be de­ter­mined.

“With the nerve in­jury like it is, it still re­mains to be seen,” said Se­abolt. “At this point we’re just go­ing to wait and see what the body does, but the knee is com­ing along very well. He’s get­ting stronger and stronger with it.”

Ac­cord­ing to Se­abolt, it’s very rare to treat some­one with this type of in­jury, and this par­tic­u­lar in­stance was one of the more se­ri­ous ones in­volv­ing the knee that she has ever treated.

“We don’t usu­ally see some­one with this ex­tent,” said Se­abolt. “This is a mas­sive in­jury. We see a lot of ACL and lig­a­ment in­juries that don’t al­ways need surgery, but when they do we fol­low the spe­cific pro­to­cols that we’re given.”

Ful­mer, who still main­tains As and Bs de­spite his re­cent set­back, re­ceived a schol­ar­ship to Young Har­ris Col­lege and will be­gin classes in the fall. Prior to the ac­ci­dent, he had con­sid­ered ex­tend­ing his foot­ball ca­reer some­where as a walk-on.

“I guess some things just aren’t meant to be,” he shrugged.

De­spite miss­ing three games af­ter the in­jury, Ful­mer still made The Cov­ing­ton News 2007 Al­lCounty Foot­ball Team.

“He’s a great kid,” said Collins. “Very quiet, but he’s a work­man’s type kid. Andrew showed up on time ev­ery­day and got his work done. He was very con­sis­tent and a very solid player (who) knew where he was sup­posed to be when he was sup­posed to be there. That’s the thing that I re­ally ad­mired about him; he was a player you could re­ally count on.”

Last sea­son Ful­mer recorded 28 to­tal tack­les, in­clud­ing three for a loss and three sacks.

Al­though he does not have com­plete feel­ing in his leg, Ful­mer is hop­ing that af­ter an­other op­er­a­tion he will even­tu­ally re­gain full use of his leg. Nev­er­the­less, he is the first to show ap­pre­ci­a­tion to­ward ev­ery­one who has helped him progress along the way.

“They’ve been re­ally help­ful and nice,” he said, “and very en­cour­ag­ing and pos­i­tive.”

Team­mates like Colby West­brook, Ge­orge Clackum, Gavin Bow­man, Matt Veal, Tim McGuinn and Josh Cloer, in­clud­ing Emily Watt, have been just a few by Andrew’s side since the ac­ci­dent.

“His friends sup­ported him,” said Kim, “They came and vis­ited, they stayed with him, they called him and they kept him in touch with what was go­ing on at school, so that was good.

“We joked say­ing that his new sport will be ping­pong or chess,” she added. “He’s pretty good at chess.”

FUL­MER

An­thony Banks/The Cov­ing­ton News

Run­down: New­ton High start­ing de­fen­sive tackle Andrew Ful­mer (63) chases af­ter East­side’s Brod­er­ick Alexan­der (8) dur­ing the crosstown matchup on Aug. 31, 2007 at Homer Sharp Sta­dium.

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