A Tulane football player injured Saturday against Tulsa is alert and responding to his family and doctors.
Devon Walker was injured when his helmet hit the helmet of a teammate while making a tackle during Saturday's game. He was treated in the field for nearly 45 minutes before being taken to the hospital.
It was a play that had the college football world holding its collective breath.
Doctors say he suffered a fracture to his cervical spine which is at the top of the spinal column near the skull.
"Spinal cord injuries are, unfortunately, fairly common," said Lisa Hollett, RN.
Hollett is the manager of the trauma program at St. John Medical Center.
Though she has not treated Walker, she said she is very familiar with spinal cord injuries, including fractures of the cervical spine.
"The spine is composed of 33 bones. The cervical spine is composed of seven, starting at the top of the skull, coming on down," Hollett said.
Tulsa Native and Tulane University Athletic Director Rick Dickson said, Monday, the show of support for Walker from Tulsans is overwhelming.
"I couldn't be more proud and appreciative, and I know I'm speaking on behalf of all of us at Tulane and the Walker family, in terms of how Tulsa stood up. My hometown has done exactly what I've always known about it," Dickson said.
Walker's injury is very similar to the one that ended the NFL career of former Golden Hurricane Dennis Byrd in 1992.
"I got on a plane and flew from Honolulu to Lennox Hospital in New York and saw Dennis shortly after his significant injury," Dickson said.
Both players were hit head-on by a teammate while making a tackle.
"What happens when you have helmet-to-helmet contact is you have what's called axial loading, and that's when the skull pushes down into the spinal cord and those bones break," Hollett said.
Byrd was able to walk using a cane only three months after his injury.
Hollett said it's impossible to know the long-term damage for Walker until the swelling around his spinal cord goes down.
Hollett said, short of a helmet, similar to what NASCAR drivers use that completely restricts mobility, there's not much football players can wear to prevent these kinds of injuries.
But, she said she's seeing more awareness from football enthusiasts around the country.
"I think that the NFL on down to the peewee leagues has done, pretty much, the best they can to protect the spinal cord as much as possible," Hollett said.
Hollett said each case is different but the higher an injury is on the spinal column, the closer to the skull, the more complex the case becomes, and there's usually more severe long-term damage.
The University of Tulsa announced, Monday, they have started a fund to benefit Walker's family, while he is hospitalized in Tulsa.
They said alumni, friends and fans can donate by sending a check to The University of Tulsa Golden Hurricane Club with "Devon Walker Fund" noted in the memo line.
TU said the funds would go to Walker's family, to help make their stay in Tulsa easier. They said checks may be dropped off at the TU Athletic Director's Office in Mabee Gym at East 8th Street and South Florence Avenue or mailed to 800 South Tucker Drive, Tulsa, OK 74104.
"Without question, Devon Walker and his family have been treated as one of Tulsa's own," Dickson said.
Tulane University has also set up a website in support of Walker and his family. You can donate or leave messages for Walker there.
Parents Inez and Booker Walker posted a note to the public on the web page Monday afternoon:
"We have been overwhelmed by the amount of concerned well wishes we have received from all over the world. Although we cannot respond individually to all, we thank everyone for the love and support shown to Devon and our family. The medical care that our son has received so far has been outstanding. We are also very grateful for the care and concern shown to us by those here at Tulsa University, in the City of Tulsa, at Tulane University and of course by everyone at home in New Orleans.
We appreciate you respecting our family's request for privacy. We do ask that you continue to keep Devon in your prayers."
Donations can also be made to the College Football Assistance Fund, which is a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting college football players, who have sustained serious injuries.