STILLWATER – Artrell Woods believes that he’s going to catch a touchdown pass again one day. The Oklahoma State wide receiver would like nothing better than for that score to occur against the rival Oklahoma Sooners, and then he would run across the field to thank Dr. Brock Schnebel, the OU team physician. It not for Schnebel, Woods may not be walking today.
Woods, the OSU sophomore wide receiver from Bryan, Texas, suffered a severe back injury last month which nearly left him paralyzed. The Cowboy receiver spoke publicly Saturday during OSU Media Day for the first time since the July 13 accident in the Cowboy weight room.
“I feel pretty good,” said Woods, who walked into Gallagher-Iba Arena wearing his No. 83 jersey with a back brace on and then sat in front of microphones and television cameras for nearly 20 minutes answering questions. “I’ve been walking around, moving around pretty good. All in all, I feel like I’ve been making more progress than expected.”
The progress that Woods has made in the three weeks since the injury has been nothing short of a miracle.
Woods was doing his routine workout that morning, and had just completed a lift in which he was stepping up onto a box with a 185-pound weight bar across his shoulders behind his head. Reports indicated that Woods sprained an ankle as he was stepping up on the box, and fell with the 185 pounds coming down on top of him. He says that is not what happened.
“It was just an accident. I had just got done doing step-ups and after I got done I had just started walking back to the rack (to return the weight bar) … and my ankle rolled over,” Woods says. “After that I just fell. I tried to get somebody to help me up but I couldn’t because of my spine. I told them not to help me out. (OSU head trainer) Rob (Hunt) and the other trainer, John (Stemm), came out and tried to help me up, and I couldn’t feel my legs. They got me in the ambulance and after that I passed out.
“I was out of it (for the next 18 hours and can’t remember anything). I could tell you what happened the next morning … it was real scary. My momma was sitting there just heartbroken.”
But thanks to the fine work of Schnebel, Woods felt his toes the morning after surgery, was walking just 11 days after the accident and has returned to OSU where he will begin the fall semester in two weeks.
The morning of the accident Woods was transported to Stillwater Medical Center, and then flown by helicopter to Mercy Hospital in Oklahoma City, where surgery was performed by Schnebel later that day to repair two displaced vertebrae.
“I haven’t dealt with any other injury of this nature,” said Rob Hunt, “but going into surgery Dr. Schnebel was unsure how much he was going to have to do. The thoughts were it was going to be a multiple-level fusion for his back which would immediately end his career, and you don’t know if the spinal cord is going to respond at all once the surgery is performed. The thoughts are the kid’s not going to walk again before the surgery.
“But (Artrell) comes out of surgery and indications from all the doctors were extremely positive concerning how the spine was fixed and how the spinal cord responded once the spine was fixed, all gave us the (indication) this thing is improving already in the first six hours from the time of the injury,” Hunt said while seated beside Woods in the lobby of Gallagher-Iba Arena.
“He did move his foot very quickly after surgery, and he began over the next 12 to 24 to 48 hours to regain motor function of his right leg. All those things indicated the spine and spinal cord are healing, and the limit of that now is unknown – how it’s going to continue to heal? We all think he’s on a great road, and steady progress has been good. That is remarkable from the time the kid went into surgery not knowing whether he’s going to walk again. A week ago he was walking with a walker. Now he’s walking without a walker.”
Woods surprised his teammates when they found him upbeat upon visiting him just days after the surgery, and the injured player was encouraging them to prepare for the 2007 season. But he also admits that there have been some struggles.
“It’s been real hard. Rob (Hunt) told me there were going to be some ups and downs but I didn’t know it was going to be like this,” Woods says. “I’ve had some days where I was real angry with everybody, and thinking about my season. I’ve hurt a lot of people that I care about, and I’m real sorry for that. But then again there were times where I was thinking about how much better I’ll be when I get back.
“Just about every day has been an up day; there only been two or three days that have been down days. When my players are around me I feel like my spirits have got to be high because if they think that I’m OK, then it’ll make them want to play better.”
Woods, who was expected to start opposite of All-American candidate Adarius Bowman after an outstanding spring game (111 receiving yards and two touchdowns), has now accepted a new role as the Cowboys begin preparing for their Sept. 1 opener at Georgia. “My role is to help whoever fills my position. Hopefully, I remember everything because I’ve probably lost some brain cells,” he joked.
Will Woods ever return to the football field? That’s a question that may not be known for a while, but the 18-year-old is determined to give it a try.
“It has just made me want to work harder to get to where I want to be because all I’ve ever wanted to do was play football in the NFL, so it’s going to make me work 10 times harder to get to that point,” Woods says.
Hunt says there is no set timetable on the player’s return to the field.
“That’s the one thing we’ve talked about the most,” says the OSU trainer. “The doctors cautioned us from the beginning that there are no benchmarks – it’s not three months, it’s not six months. The severity of the injury he suffered is something that we could wait as long as two years and still have an opportunity to get better.
“He’s made remarkable progress in the first three weeks, which leads us all and encourages us all that this thing may be a shorter recovery than a longer recovery, but it’s still a long road. And we’re not going to say at six months if he’s not doing this (one thing), so it’s a problem. The doctor said we may see gains a long time down the road which will prove very beneficial to his functions.
“He just keeps progressing. He needs to continue to build strength in his right leg. We want to see continue function growth. Obviously he spent 12 days in the hospital, and he lost 20 pounds just from being in the bed. Those people took great care of him, and got him ready (to come back to Stillwater) … getting ready to function in an environment in which someone is not there to care for him… he’s far exceeded that. Now we’re working on getting continued motor function back so six or eight months from now maybe, maybe, we’re running again. That may not be for 12 months. We don’t know. It’s all dependent on how his back heals and how his leg functions, on how that speed and what that rate will be.”