Juan Kincaid / Eyewitness News
NEW ORLEANS - By now, you probably know the story of Tulane University football player Devon Walker. On Sept. 8, 2012, his life was at a crossroads.
“I remember everything. I couldn’t breathe on the field,” Walker said during a recent interview. “I tried to move everything. I tried to get up. Everything below my neck was, I guess, frozen.”
It’s a scene that has been replayed in Walker’s head many times. Playing against Tulsa, a routine play that the senior wouldn’t walk away from.
“Once I collided with my teammate, it kind of was like my body went numb.”
The game stopped at that moment, as medical personnel rushed into action, getting to Walker, desperate to get him breathing again.
“I didn’t lose consciousness at all, but my level of injury, I lost use of my diaphragm. At first I thought it was a stinger because my whole body was just like numb, so I was just trying to, you know, you try to shake it off, say okay next play, let’s go, but I couldn’t move.”
Walker had to be rushed to Tulsa’s St. Francis hospital where he would spend the next 10 days, much of it in a coma.
Meanwhile, back in Destrehan, Walker’s parents now found themselves rushing to be by their son’s side.
“I couldn’t get there fast enough,’ said his mother.
“I couldn’t get any information, I saw him carted off into the ambulance, but nothing, you know, I didn’t know what happened to him, where he was or anything, so it was really difficult.”
There was a fear of the unknown, of what they’d see. Would they even recognize their own son?
“They had the cold blanket on him, so he was in a coma. They had him stretched out with weights to, I guess hold his neck still. He was in a coma. He had tubes, breathing tubes, feeding tubes, and it was just a sight to see. It was awful,” said his mother.
God’s plan for Devon was complex, but never questioned.
From Tulsa, he was airlifted to the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, a facility specializing in spinal cord injuries.
He’d spend the next three months there, getting around-the-clock treatments on his body and non-stop reminders from others just like him, that a brighter day is on the way.
Today, Walker’s movements are surely coming back, though slowly. He has gone from not being able to move at all in Tulsa, to moving his arms in rehab.
Today, he does rehab work at least three times per week in his home. It is designed to get his body functioning again.
“A month into Shepherd, I started to regain light touch,” he said. “And after a while it just…my whole body, I have light touch, so I’m blessed to be able to feel if somebody puts their arm on me.”
“You could take a bat and hit me and I wouldn’t feel it,” he laughed.
As his long road to recovery continues, so too does the support Walker has received from all across the country - from a visit from New Orleans Saints players in Atlanta to the countless number of ‘get-well’ letters that have arrived on their doorstep.
He read one of the letters to us.
“Devon, I was sorry to hear about your serious injury. I want you to know that me and my family are praying for you,” he reads. “Just like you have done your whole life, you have to win the battle despite the odds. Never give up, never quit. (Former Tulane Coach) Bob Toledo.”
This fall, Walker said he will return to Tulane to finish his degree work in cell and molecular biology. He said that even though the injury has taken football away from him, he will not let it stop him from fulfilling a mission he began nearly four years ago.
“As a senior, I had only a few more credits to get and it would seem like a waste of time for me to have gone through all the struggles I have and just act like I don’t need it any more or act like it wouldn’t help me in the future.”
Walker has big plans for his future. They begin with building an even stronger bond with his family, like holding his young niece again and doing the simplest of things that make a person feel whole.
“It’s one of my main goals to be able to do that. I just feel like I’m missing out on that part of my life.”
His life, once hanging in the balance, is now ripe with hope, belief and positive expectations.
It’s taken four months to get to this point. The next four are expected to bring many more feelings of satisfaction of a job well done and many more good ones to come.
We closed our interview by asking if he ever asks ‘Why me?’
“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t. I think all people who go through this type of injury ask themselves that,” he said. “You come to the reality that you can’t really control what goes on in life, you only can live it.’