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Josh Porter is a walking miracle
LSUs hoops star escapes paralysis after fracturing vertebrae - The Shreveport Times
 
Published Wednesday, December 20, 2006
by Brian Vernellis

The collision left Josh Porter motionless on the basketball court like a marionette with its strings cut, his arms and legs limp. His eyes strained and focused on the concession stand at the end of the court.

That's when he began to pray. Basketball was as much a part of Josh's life as his family and school. All he wanted to do in his young life was play basketball, yet his senior season began with a pair of nagging injuries that limited his playing time.

This latest accident threatened his life. Porter collided with teammate Kyile Byrd at center court during LSUS' game against Southwestern Assemblies of God on Nov. 28.

Porter couldn't move his arms or legs, and as he lay at center court he prayed the game he loved wouldn't be taken from him.

"That's when the faith aspect comes into it," Porter said. "I'm saying, 'Lord, I love you and I believe in you, but don't take me away.'"

Slowly, the feeling in his extremities returned, allowing him to move his hands and wiggle his toes.

It wasn't until the doctors' examination that night at LSU Health Sciences Center that Porter understood how close he came to becoming a quadriplegic.

"God spared him and he's got to do something with it," LSUS head coach Chad McDowell said.

"It's a miracle you don't want to forget. It's a miracle that doesn't need to be held in."

Porter's case is rare. His doctor, neurosurgeon Dr. Anil Nanda, said in 1 percent of similar cases he sees will a patient's movement return.

Former Haughton baseball standout Bryan Jaeger, a baseball player for LSU-Eunice, suffered a similar injury but wasn't so lucky. He's confined to a wheelchair after a freak accident.

Those who know Porter understand the injury has reinforced his engaging personality and outlook on life. His thoughts concentrate on life's lessons his parents have instilled in him: Follow the Golden Rule; keep a good heart and positive attitude.

"Yes, it was a life-changing incident, but I've had time to sit down and think over it," Porter said. "It's just made me reflect on how good the Lord is."

The play

After shooting a pair of free throws, Porter retreated to midcourt with Byrd to play defense. Less than seven and a half minutes remained in the first half and the Pilots had a 24-19 lead over the visitors.

Teammates Nick Garrett and Greg Tyer pressed the inbounds pass, trying to trap the ballhandler.

As the ball moved upcourt, Porter and Byrd anticipated the pass.

The two collided.

Byrd (6-foot-6, 240 pounds) knocked Porter (6-foot-3, 180 pounds) out of the air like a gust of wind puffs a leaf.

Porter landed on the base of his neck. The plastic facemask that protected his broken nose shot across the court on impact.

He lay on his right side for a few seconds before rolling to his back.

Play continued before teammates and officials realized he was injured. No one grasped the severity yet. Trainers Lance Champagne and Joel Thompson were beside him in seconds.

An official obstructed McDowell's view of the accident. The extent of the injury initially escaped him too.

Porter had been through a rough two weeks to start the season. He broke his nose in a scrimmage before the season opener. In his first game back, he bruised his tailbone when he crashed to the court after a hard foul on a dunk.

"With all that happened, I didn't have time after everybody rushed out there to think, 'Did he fall on his neck? Is this a major injury?'" McDowell said.

"I'm thinking, 'Man, this guy can't buy a break.'"

Athletic director Doug Robinson watched the game from the second-floor track that rings around the basketball court. The crowd around Porter had grown by the time he raced downstairs.

There were Champagne and Thompson, his father and mother, McDowell, officials and teammates.

Robinson had seen neck injuries in his career as a high school football coach. He was coach at Woodlawn in 1980 when Fair Park player Troy Monsanto broke his neck during a game against the Knights. Monsanto slipped into a coma and died 11 days after the accident.

Two of his players broke their necks during practices and escaped injuries.

"When I saw Lance holding his head, that scared me," Robinson said.

Champagne and Thompson switched places, freeing Champagne to check the extent of Porter's injury.

Thompson kept his head still for nearly 20 minutes until paramedics arrived while Champagne talked with Porter and checked his extremities.

The sight of his son lying on the floor motionless ripped through Louis Porter. The thought of his son not pursuing his love pained him even more.

Porter was a Vietnam vet and a 30-year veteran of the Shreveport police force. God had seen him through the hell of war and three decades as a police officer.

God could not forsake him now and certainly not at the expense of his son.

"I made up my mind that if he takes feeding him or pushing him around in a wheelchair, that he's my beloved son, and I didn't care," Louis Porter said.

For 15 minutes, Josh couldn't feel anything.

"It really gets to your heart and mind to see how strong you are," Josh said.

Paramedics and trainers stabilized him with a spine board and a plastic collar around his neck

Slowly, the feeling returned to Josh's toes and fingers, except this wasn't a pins-and-needles feeling when a hand or foot falls asleep.

This was a searing pain that fired throughout his body. Still, any feeling at this point was encouraging.

"I was just happy that I got the feeling back," Josh said. "I knew that it probably wasn't going to be that bad. I thought I'd have to sit out a couple of games."

Even the athletic trainers relaxed a bit at that point.

"I thought it was a stinger-like injury," Champagne said.

They moved him to a gurney and wheeled him out of the gymnasium. As Josh left, he flashed a No. 1 sign to the crowd with his right hand and wiggled his toes to show everyone he was fine.

"That's when I thought he was going to be all right until that night when they came in to his hospital room," Robinson said.

Little did Josh or anyone in the gym know, he was far from fine.

The diagnosis

The ambulance rushed him to LSU Health Science Center where neurosurgeon Dr. Nanda examined him.

His MRI scans revealed he had a complete fracture of the C4 and C5 vertebrae in his neck. Yet, he had feeling and movement in his hands and feet.

"I have seen several spinal cord injuries at LSU and this is probably the third time I've seen something like that," Dr. Nanda said.

He walked into Josh's room to inform his parents and McDowell what happened.

"All the air was sucked out of the room," McDowell said.

Dr. Nanda fused the vertebrae together in a 90-minute surgery two days after the accident. He expects Josh to have a full recovery.

Josh, Dr. Nanda, the Porters and McDowell credit Champagne, Thompson and the paramedics for their action.

If the slightest movement disturbed his neck and spine on the court, it could have severed Josh's spinal cord resulting in paralysis and possibly death.

The nerves controlling his breathing might have detached, meaning he could have suffocated at midcourt.

"The angle and force with which he hit, it was like a tsunami, like a perfect storm," Nanda said.

While Josh rested in his hospital bed after the surgery, Louis Porter noticed a profound, but subtle change in his son.

"My son is a different man," he thought.

Josh looked at him as if he had read his mind.

"Yeah, you're right," he answered.

"That makes chills go through you," Louis Porter said. "I hadn't shared that with him."

The epilogue

Three weeks after the accident, Josh Porter has a deeper appreciation for life. His attitude and outlook on life has always been admired by coaches, teachers and friends, but even they are amazed at his resolution.

He plans on returning to LSUS to finish his senior season after receiving a medical redshirt.

His optimism never wavered in his crisis supported by people whose lives he has touched and influenced, like the students and faculty at Midway Elementary.

McDowell took his team to meet the kids at the school before the season started. With his effervescent personality and grin, Josh Porter was the kids' favorite. Teammates marveled as the kids flocked around him for an autograph.

A Shreveport native living in Hot Springs, Ark., wrote McDowell to lend support and thank Josh. The Pilots traveled to Hot Springs for a game and the Shreveporter brought his young son to watch their hometown team.

Josh, who sat out due to the broken nose, played with the man's son at halftime.

Similar e-mails, offering prayers and encouragement from others touched by Josh's kindness, flooded McDowell's computer. At last count, there were nearly 200 e-mails.

"I'm thankful for the prayers and support," Louis Porter said. "It's a combination of things, not just one thing. It's his teammates, the faculty, his friends.

"I can probably count on all my fingers the number of things that are keeping his spirits up, and I'm feeding him good."

His first time back at LSUS' gymnasium fans gave him two standing ovations.

Even now, when he watches the replay of the accident unfold before him on McDowell's computer, he doesn't divert his eyes.

There's no depression, no anxiety and no fear on his face. All he projects is a deep calm that emanates from his soulful eyes.

"It just makes me believe even more how the Lord protects us and delivers us from all things," he says.


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