I Survived: Caught on Tape: Spencer, Bob, Sue

Permanently Sidelined

"It was the first game of the season. It was the second quarter, and I was playing linebacker on defense," remembers Spencer, 18.

"This was a really tough team we were playing that night," says Spencer's mother, Sue.

"We're sitting in the stands, and up to this point, it's been a very physical football game," recounts Spencer's father, Bob.

"I was just going to tackle the quarterback from behind," Spencer says. "When I hit the quarterback, my neck just tweaked, just twisted a little bit. Once I hit the ground, I was disoriented and didn't know where I was. I never heard a pop or a snap or anything like that. I just kind of brushed it off. I thought, you know, it's just football."

Spencer took a break from the game but resumed playing after halftime. "My neck just felt like it was kind of strained. I ran back out on the field, and I was a kicker," he says. "When I went to kick the ball, I looked down. The pain just shot halfway down my back. I was only able to kick it about 10 yards, and usually I can just belt it down the field."

"When I saw Spencer kick that ball, I thought something is very, very wrong," Sue says.

Spencer's mother was right. No one knew that Spencer was about to make the last play of his football career.

[AD]"The next play I was playing fullback, and I went to block somebody, and it just hurt so bad," Spencer says.

Video footage of the game shows Spencer attempting to make a block, but instead is being pushed backwards by the other player.

"Spencer could not fight, and the linebacker just kept pushing him and pushing him, and I knew something had to be wrong," Bob says.

"My neck just started getting tighter and tighter, and just started to hurt worse and worse. I was thinking, man, there's got to be something worse than just a strained neck," Spencer says.

After the game, Spencer headed home with his parents and the team doctor, but halfway there, they decided to go to the emergency room for a cat scan.

"When we saw the doctor, right away it was ‘Spencer, I have some very bad news.' He said, ‘I think you're done playing football.' It was just like a death sentence," Bob says.

"The doctor showed me that I broke my C5 vertebrae in two spots. My vertebrae was pushing into my spine," Spencer says. "I almost went into panic mode. I realized that I could die from this."

"One centimeter more and he'd have been a paraplegic. More than a centimeter, and he could've been dead. It was just that serious," Bob says.

Sue cries, remembering, "I was just so thankful he was alive. I was just thinking we could've just lost him. It was extremely hard to send him into surgery. The look in his eye was about more than I could take because he was scared to death."

"I was worried about surgery just because I knew I might not wake up. If they made just one slight mistake, I could be paralyzed or even die," Spencer says.

Thankfully, Spencer is expected to make a fully recovery, but his dream of playing football has been permanently sidelined.

"He'll never take the field again," Sue says tearfully. "It makes me very sad because now I have to watch him be in more pain by watching his friends play without him."

Spencer breaks down in tears when his thinks about never playing his sport again. After he's gathered himself, he says, "What upsets me the most is probably I feel like I let my team down. I'm one of the captains. I'm one of the senior leaders. I just feel like I'm letting them down. This injury upsets me quite a bit. It's going to prevent me from ever playing football again. It was one of my dreams to play college football, and now it's just kind of dashed."

[AD]"He could've died very easily from this injury. He's a very lucky young man," Bob says.

"I do believe in miracles. He's absolutely living a miracle right now. We couldn't be happier," Sue says. "But next month, in two months, when the reality really sets in and everything settles down at home, what happens if he crashes? Then what do we do?"

"Tell me about the conversation you had with yourself when you realized it's over, football is gone," Dr. Phil says.

"Well, at first, when the doctor showed me what you guys just saw, I just thought, you know, he can just pop it back into place," Spencer says. "I knew that wasn't physically possible, but I was just trying to tell myself that it's going to be OK, in a couple weeks you can be back out there."

"So just pop that double broken vertebrae back in place. 'Shake it off, I'll be OK'?" Dr. Phil asks with a smile.

"Right. Exactly," Spencer says.

"What's the toughest thing for you now?"

"Watching the games. I just feel like I'm letting them down, like I said in the video. They want me out there, and I want to do it for them too. You don't just play for yourself; you play for your team," Spencer says. "That's why it's so hard standing there and watching, not being able to help my teammates like I've done in the past 10 years of my life."

Dr. Phil explains that he too played football, from grade school up until college, when an injury sidelined him as well. "I made a tackle in that game, and it was the last down in football I ever played because I hurt my neck, and I was unconscious for an extended amount of time, and when I woke up, they said, ‘You're not going to play football anymore,'" he remembers. "I have to tell you, when I found out it was over, I thought, well, what a gyp. I didn't like that, but it was a very short amount of time before I started getting excited about the next thing I was going to do. I didn't know what it was, but I started finding out real quick when I opened myself up to it.

 

"One of the things I've always said is when somebody in the family gets hurt or sick, the whole family gets hurt or sick." Dr. Phil looks to Bob and says, "I mean, this has pained you as much as it has him. You would switch with him in a second, would you not?"

"I would," Bob says. "That's the most painful part. You encourage your kids their whole life to set goals for themselves, do everything you can to reach those goals, and as a parent, you're just there, and you support them, and something like this happens, and like I said before, it's like a death sentence."

[AD]"Here's the thing: the power of language is huge," Dr. Phil says. "You say this is like a death sentence? That is so wrong." He asks Spencer, "Do you realize how close you were to not ever being able to walk again?"

"Yes," Spencer says.

"How close you could've been to actually dying?" He tells Bob, "And you say this is like a death sentence? I just have to tell you, my attitude is you all ought to be falling on your knees and thanking God that this young man is sitting here. This is a gift from God. He isn't injured in a way that is going to alter his life. This isn't a death sentence; this is a gift."

Dr. Phil introduces Dr. Travis Stork, emergency room physician and host of the new show The Doctors.

Dr. Stork agrees with Dr.Phil. "The miracle here is that you went back out on that field, and you kept playing, and you didn't end up paralyzed," he tells Spencer. "You're going to live a long, happy, healthy life, and you should be grateful for that because there are plenty of kids out there who can't say that."

 

Dr. Stork shows an animated diagram of Spencer's injury. "The fifth vertebrae is highlighted, and basically, your spinal cord runs down through that, and his CT scan showed that his fifth vertebrae had lodged forward a little bit. So that next tackle or block that you made could've been your last, not only tackle, but the last time you ever felt your arms and legs. So this is a huge blessing, even though it doesn't appear that way right now."

"And take it from one jock to another: It's a game, man," Dr. Phil says. "You're alive. You can play other games. You can do other things."

Dr. Phil points out that Spencer's team is still behind him. He plays their video message.

"Spencer, we miss you. Get well soon. We're out here playing for you. Even though you're not with us, you're always part of our team. Wildcat Pride on three! One, two, three: Spencer! Wildcat Pride!"

[AD]"Be patient with yourself," Dr. Phil reminds Spencer. "And instead of worrying about what you can't do, be thankful for what you can do. You dodged a bullet, my friend."

Later, Dr. Phil presents Spencer with a gift. Two tickets to see his favorite band, Papa Roach, at a concert of his choice, along with backstage passes to meet the band members. In addition, Spencer gets four tickets to see the Miami Heat, along with a meet and greet. "Hopefully that will fill up some of your boredom until you get this off your neck," he says.