Goucher player paralyzed in freak accident

More news about: Goucher

By Dave McHugh,

Damone Brooks' freshman season at Goucher was a successful one on the court. Whether he will ever able to play a sophomore season remains to be seen.
Goucher athletics photo

TOWSON, Md. - This past Friday, Goucher College celebrated its 121st commencement. And while celebrating the accomplishments of the hundreds of graduate and post-graduates, one can’t help but think the hearts, minds, thoughts, and prayers of seniors on the Gophers men’s basketball program, and many others in attendance, were someplace else.

That’s because for one Goucher men’s basketball player, the goal of graduating college has become less important. Recovering from a freak accident and dealing with the possibility of being a quadriplegic or a paraplegic the rest of his life is enough to comprehend right now.

For college students, the stress of not only academics but also their social life and becoming an independent adult can get overwhelming at times. Whether it was one way to deal with the stress or just a fun way to bond with a friend, the morning of April 20 changed the life of freshman guard Damone Brooks forever.

Just two days before his 19th birthday, Brooks was wrestling around with a friend in one of Goucher’s residential buildings. Another friend was looking on when the unthinkable happened: Brooks landed on his neck, misaligning his C4 and C5 vertebrae and bruising his spinal cord.

Essentially, he had broken his neck and now was fighting for his life instead of dealing with the normal stresses of college.

Brooks was immediately rushed to the University of Maryland’s Shock Trauma center, one of the top trauma hospitals in the world located in downtown Baltimore. Before the end of the day, he had already undergone surgery to realign his neck.

“The goal of the surgery is to stabilize the injury and reduce further injury especially from swelling which can do further damage to the spinal cord,” says Dr. Daniel Sciubba, assistant professor of neurosurgery, orthopedic surgery, and oncology and director of minimally invasive spine surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital and School of Medicine. “The lower an injury to the spinal cord the better. Having an injury to the C5 vertebrae means a patient could regain movement to their shoulders and biceps, but may have no hand movement.”

In a matter of five days, Brooks had undergone two additional surgeries which placed pins and rods in his neck, cleaned out bone spurs in the C2 and C3 vertebrae, and placed a tracheotomy to help his breathing. Following the surgeries, Brooks did regain feeling and even movement in his upper arms.

“Signs of improvement after the surgeries indicate he may continue to improve,” Sciubba points out. “If there is no indication of movement and feeling in the days and even weeks after surgery, then there most likely will be no improvement even a year after the injury.”

Brooks was put on a ventilator to help receive more oxygen, helping strengthen his lungs and diaphragm to aid in his recovery. He also started different types of therapy including acupressure and little known Reiki therapy, which channels his energy to encourage healing and restore well-being.

The results have been very encouraging in such a short period of time. Brooks can reportedly feel parts of his body as low as his calf, though some of those feelings are apparently inconsistent.

More importantly, he is working his way off of his ventilator to the point that, according to his family’s blog, Brooks has gone from a schedule of just a few hours at a time to more than 24 hours of breathing unaided. He has also regained the ability to swallow and can now eat which has helped his spirits which you can imagine run the gamut each day: A young college student-athlete entering the prime of his life, lying in a hospital bed knowing that getting back on the basketball court and playing competitively may never happen again.

“Nothing prepares you for an event such as this,” says Goucher athletic director Geoff Miller. “It is a difficult reminder, particularly for young people who are so healthy and vibrant, to learn about their mortality and the fragility of life.”

In his first year at Goucher, Brooks had made an immediate impact. The 6-foot guard from Takoma Park, Md., played in all 23 games for the Gophers, averaging 7.7 points while shooting .401 from the field and .234 from beyond the arc. He had scored in double figures 10 times, including a season-high 20 points in an 84-51 loss to Catholic at home to finish the season. Brooks had shown quickly he was going to be an integral part of the men’s basketball program for the next three years.

Now Brooks is tackling a very different challenge than playing the Cardinals on the court. He has already had to tackle high fevers and concerns of infections or pneumonia – something most spinal cord injury victims deal with. He must be infection free and be able to breathe on his own for more than 72 hours before he can be released to a rehab facility. A challenge demonstrated earlier this week when an infection in his blood kept him from being released.

When he is released to rehab, it will be an important step in his recovery.

“Rehab will strengthen and move his arms to keep from being a complete quadriplegic,” Sciubba explains. “It will maximize functionality and teach him new ways to use his arms.”

There is also the mental challenge of understanding what lies ahead. His family says they are encouraging him with pep talks, nurses take him outside to lift his spirits, and he is visited nearly every day by not only his family, but by teammates and friends along with faculty and staff from Goucher.

How to help

For the latest update on Damone Brooks’ condition, visit his CaringBridge page. For more information on how you can donate to help his family defray his medical costs, visit www.helphopelive.org.

Then there are the medical bills. The family is asking for donations through their blog and the community has responded. Goucher students rallied in the days after the accident to put on a benefit concert that raised about $1,800 and Goucher faculty and staff have also made contributions.

“The community has responded in typical Goucher fashion,” Miller points out. “We are rallying around the family and Damone, and are determined to continue to provide support in the future.”

And as you can imagine, while this is tough for Brooks and his family, it is affecting his friends and teammates as well.

 “Damone’s life has been changed forever, and so have the lives of those who care about him,” says Miller. “It is particularly tough on coach Leonard Trevino and the members of the basketball team.”

So as students arrive home for the summer and tackle their part-time jobs to pay for school, books, or for just plain fun and student-athletes work at keeping themselves in shape for their upcoming seasons, keep in mind Damone Brooks. This summer he will be just starting his journey to recover from a horrific accident that has changed his focus from being on the basketball court next season and graduating in 2015 to rallying from one of life’s biggest challenges and maybe even get back on his feet.

“Damone is part of our family,” says Miller. “And he needs us now more than ever.”

Dave McHugh is a Goucher alum and has been the public address announcer for the Gopher men’s basketball program and other teams for the past 17 years. He is also the Broadcast Director for D3sports.com and creator and host of “Hoopsville.”