Heads in the Game
A wheelchair ramp to the back door by the garage. A wheelchair, from which he didn't arise for the first five months and still sits occasionally when weary. Glasses that don't completely help eyes that have no peripheral vision. His speech. His walk. His therapies. His life.
So much is different for Preston Plevretes.
The story of consequence, the story of second impact syndrome -- Preston's story -- was retold in Sunday's Post-Gazette.
It is such a complex, complicated tale that begins more than the collision five years ago at Duquesne University's Rooney Field, a sturdy LaSalle University linebacker complaining of headaches from a month-old concussion being felled by a punt-coverage collision that shook him, his family, even college football to an extent. It is a tale that will go far beyond today and tomorrow and even Preston's lifetime.
While only so much space in a newspaper could be allotted to one story, there is far more to relate about second impact syndrome, about Preston's plight, about his family.
Here are a handful of additional snapshots:
> A few weeks before that LaSalle-Duquesne game, there came a prank call to the Plevretes' Marlboro, N.J., home: Your son was arrested at school. Several frantic phone calls later, they discovered it was a prank.
So when they got a call from UPMC Mercy that they should rush to Pittsburgh, something had happened to their son, for a couple of seconds they wondered if it was another hoax. At least, Ted Plevretes said, he and Tammy hoped it was.
> They usually attended most of LaSalle's games, and they certainly under normal circumstances would've made the trip to Pittsburgh -- Tammy still has family in Westmoreland County, where her parents were raised. But it was Senior Day at Marlboro High for their other son, Perry, two years Preston's junior.
As it turned out, not long later, Perry dedicated his senior-season finale to his big brother laying in a UPMC Mercy bed, tubes throughout his head and torso, in a medically induced coma where he would remain for weeks, half the right side of his skull removed for months because his brain was so horribly swollen and bleeding. In that game, Perry wore Preston's Marlboro number. In that game, Perry scored a touchdown.
> The LaSalle team bus, Tammy said, didn't make it directly back to Philadelphia after that Nov. 5, 2005 Duquesne game. The way she told it, so many players became ill about halfway home, they had to pull over and stop for awhile. (LaSalle, citing dwindling competition in the non-scholarship Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference from which Duquesne exited shortly before, dropped football in Nov. 2007.)
> One week after the incident, the clinic director of the CentraState Rehabilition Center -- Brian Mason -- brought his son to Duquesne for a recruiting visit. Little more than one year later, he would become a weekday companion: Preston reports to Mason's clinic five days a week for speech, occupational, physical and even water therapy. As a joke, the day I shadowed him to therapy, Preston signed into the clinic as "Brian Mason."
> Friends and teammates were constant hospital companions. One family friend drove from central New Jersey to Pittsburgh, spent the rest of the day, then turned around and returned to Jersey that night.
> Between the tracheotomy tube and so many other tubes, he was unable to speak for the longest time. So their communication later become fingers, such as one for yes, or index cards. Speech remains difficult. Funny, but the most perceptible part of our conversation came when Ted held Preston's nose, to show how that bypasses the misfiring brain connection and overcomes the partially paralyzed tongue. In short, it provides Preston easier air passage to exhale his words. I tried to joke to the once-wannabe broadcaster: That's no way to go through life, having somebody hold your nose so you can speak.
Preston's clear response: "Hell no."
> Over time, such an incident begins to take its toll. Preston's girlfriend, some of his friends, some of his parents' friends no longer came around -- it hurt too much, or they didn't know what to say or. . . .
Perry dropped out of community college for a spell, declaring that he would stay home to help with his big brother's care. It required some nudging, but he resumed his college education; he's in Florida studying film-making.
> Less than a year after the incident, the Plevretes and therapists got Preston standing, then walking on a walker. Problem was, he didn't want to be seen using a walker to get around his own neighborhood. So he made his father drive him 15 minutes away, or more, to other communities where he wouldn't be instantly recognized.
> Wish I were able to put more tape or photographs into the video, too, but there was a snippet where Tammy showed me Preston's busy month-by-month calendar. Every weekday is filled with some sort of therapy or, currently, hour-long drives one way to Parsippany, N.J., and back for 60 minutes of oxygen treatments in a hyperbaric chamber. They don't let him sit still, his mother said, because he needs to get back as much of his life as possible.
> They have taken two trips to Germany and plan another for this coming summer for stem-cell treatments. Tammy called across the globe -- Russia, Mexico, you name it -- searching for the best available and agreeable methods of stem-cell treatments, particularly the course they wanted to try: implantation of his own stem cells. Millions of his stem cells have been removed from, say, his hips and implanted into his thighs, feet, brain, all over. After a few months, the parents see signs of improvement. However, they've also needed Botox shots in his ankles and thighs after one such treatment due to the pain and the muscle tone.
> Tammy had a question: How many football players read the warning label affixed to their helmets? In some places previously, she said, that was most if not all the warning a player received about the potential for brain injury in a helmet while playing the game.