Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 15, 2012

By Sarah Campbell
SALISBURY — A Catawba College football player who broke two vertebrae in his neck Saturday during practice is walking again thanks to a quick response by medical personnel.
Head athletic trainer Bob Casmus was on the field when the collision occurred between Tyrone Johnson, a defensive back, and his teammates as they leapt for the ball.
“It was very intense and somewhat violent,” Casmus said.
As he walked toward Johnson, Casmus saw the player’s arm and feet moving.
“When I got closer, he told me his neck really hurt and he couldn’t move it,” he said.
That’s when Casmus’ training as a certified licensed athletic trainer kicked in.
He stabilized Johnson on the field and gave him a thorough exam as they waited for emergency personnel to arrive.
“We treat every potential traumatic spine injury in this fashion because nobody has X-ray eyes on the field.”
Radiological scans taken at Rowan-Regional Medical Center showed Johnson would need advanced surgery.
His equipment was removed before he was transported to Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem.
“The equipment was removed as one unit,” Casmus said. “You can’t just rip that stuff off and risk further injury.”
Johnson received surgery Sunday and is set to leave the hospital this afternoon. He plans to return to Catawba on Sunday for the start of classes Monday.
When a Post reporter called the hospital Tuesday morning, his grandmother Shirley Johnson reported that he was walking around without using a cane or walker and going through physical therapy.
“He’s pretty well on the mend,” she said.
Shirley Johnson said Casmus was at the hospital with Tyrone the entire day Saturday.
“He never left his side,’ she said. “He was with him through the whole process making sure everything was done correctly.”
For that, she is thankful.
“It makes me feel so good that he treated him like he was his own,” she said. “I can’t thank him enough.
But Casmus doesn’t take all the credit.
“It was a total team effort,” he said. “Everybody has to work together, share expertise and listen to each other to do what is best for the patients, and that’s what happened Saturday.”
Casmus said his team of athletic trainers spend time preparing for situations like Saturday’s accident at the start of every season and receive emergency protocol each May, but this is the first time in his 23 years on the job that it’s turned out to be a severe injury.
He also speaks at various emergency personnel training sessions about how to manage spine-injured athletes on the field.
Casmus said Tyrone’s accident highlights the need to have certified licensed athletic trainers on the field during high school sports as well.
“Nationally, only 40 percent of high schools have someone like me on site full time, but that needs to be the standard not the exception,” he said. “A mistake in (Tyrone’s) care could have affected his quality of life.”
Tyrone won’t be playing football this season, but his grandmother said he could eventually reappear on the field.
The Fayetteville native and physical education major has played football since the age of 6 and said he would love to get back in the game. But if that doesn’t happen, he’s glad he can live a normal life.
“I’m going to take this opportunity to focus and try to get my grades up,” he said. “It’s a blessing to be able to go home so quickly after this accident.”
College president Brien Lewis said he’s looking forward to Johnson’s return to campus.
“We’re very grateful that Tyrone’s surgery and recovery has gone so well,” he said in a statement. “We are also thankful for the expertise and training of our Athletic Training staff, under the leadership of Bob Casmus, our head athletic trainer, and to our coaching staff for how they handled this particular situation.”
Catawba head football coach Chip Hester said Tyrone’s presence as the team safety will be missed.
“He’s a good football player, but unfortunately injuries happen in any sport and football especially,” he said. “Now I need the other guys to step up.”
Tyrone still has plans to be part of the team and that’s something Hester said he can work with.
“Your heart goes out to him because he loves the game and he loves playing, it’s been a motivating force in his development as a student,” Hester said. “We’ll put a clipboard in his hand and put him to work, he knows the game and he can help those guys who are filling in for him.”
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.