By JOHN SLEEPER
The extent of Curtis Williams’ spinal-cord injury may not be known for months.
Williams, the Huskies’ senior starter at strong safety who sustained the injury in Washington’s 31-28 victory over Stanford Saturday, still is under sedation in the intensive care unit of Stanford Medical Center in Palo Alto, Calif. His condition is closely monitored and it appears he will stay at SMC for some time.
UW coach Rick Neuheisel said he and assistant coach Bobby Hauck briefly visited Williams Sunday morning and told him that he has the full support of the players and coaching staff.
“He was alert; he knew we were there, but could not at that time do anything other than blink his eyes to acknowledge that we were there,” Neuheisel said.
Williams cannot speak because he is breathing with the aid of a ventilator.
Neuheisel said Williams’ doctors found blood in the spine, meaning the spinal cord sustained some type of injury. Doctors can more easily determine the nature of the injury as the swelling subsides. Tests revealed no bone breakage, which is a positive sign, Neuheisel said.
“The doctors are very, very careful to offer anything other than uncertainty,” Neuheisel said. “It becomes clear to me that the protocol in this kind of an injury is one of wait and see, and to offer no words of encouragement or words of pessimism. They’ve seen these situations go several different directions.”
Neuheisel said doctors detected brief shoulder movement Sunday morning, but that Williams still is heavily sedated to limit movement and prevent further damage. While he is on a ventilator, reports were that Williams was breathing on his own en route to the hospital.
According to material from the Spinal Cord Injury Resource Center, swelling in the spinal cord may begin to go down days or weeks after the injury, and patients may then regain some function. Some may recover some function as late as 18 months after the injury.
Williams was injured in the third quarter in Saturday’s game when he collided helmet-to-helmet with Stanford tailback Kerry Carter. Williams’ injury, a contusion, is high in the cervical vertebra, the eight vertebra in the neck. The vertebra are named according to their location. The highest is C-1, the next C-2, and so on.
Williams’ injury occurred in the C-2 vertabrae, which, according to Spinal Cord Resource Center material, “usually” causes quadriplegia.
Still, the effects of spinal cord injuries depend on the type of injury and level of injury – complete and incomplete. A complete injury leaves no function, sensation or voluntary movement below the level of injury.
A person with an incomplete injury may be able to move one limb more than another, may be able to feel parts of the body that can’t be moved or may have more function on one side of the body than the other.
Williams, who was raised in nearby Fresno, has been joined by two of his brothers. The entire Washington team went to the hospital following the game, were advised of Williams’ condition, said a prayer and left for San Jose International Airport for their flight back to Seattle that night.
Stanford head football coach Tyrone Willingham also spent some time at the hospital, Neuheisel said.
Neuheisel and Hauck remained in Palo Alto for doctors’ reports after evaluations Sunday morning. Neuheisel and Hauck flew back to Seattle Sunday afternoon and updated the team of Williams’ condition in a meeting Sunday night. The Huskies (4-1 in Pacific-10 Conference play, 7-1 overall) are second place in the Pac-10 and will prepare this week for a home game Saturday against Arizona.
“I don’t think there’s any question that it’s going to be difficult,” Neuheisel said. “But I know for a fact that No. 25 would want it that way. We’ve got to find a way to get up and find a way to play and play with the kind of intensity that he brought to the game.
“He’s a fun player to watch. And I have a real deep feeling that he’s going to find his way out of the woods.”
Hospital officials have asked the public not to call for updates on Williams’ condition or to send flowers or cards. Neuheisel said an attempt is being made, with the cooperation of the family and Williams’ doctors, to give periodic updates through the media. But the hospital will no longer make any reports.