(CBS) Seven minutes. That's how long Rutgers defensive tackle Eric LeGrand lay motionless on the field Saturday before being carted off by doctors. He hasn't moved anything below his neck since.
The 260-pound junior suffered a devastating spinal cord injury at the C3-C4 level, according to the Star Ledger. He underwent emergency surgery to stabilize his spine and is in intensive care at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey.
"It sounds like this could be a very bad case of cervical spinal cord injury," Dr. Dalton Dietrich, scientific director for the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, tells CBS News.
Dietrich is not working on the case, but he's seen many like it.
He says the first step is often to align, stabilize and take pressure off the spinal cord, sometimes by removing bone. That can help improve blood flow to the spinal chord. Often a steroid, methylprednisolone, is administered as well.
"If it's a very severe injury, there is limited treatment in that acute phase," he says.
But that's not necessarily the end of the story.
"Years ago when people had these injuries, people said there was no hope. You are going to be in a chair the rest of your life," says Dietrich. "But now there is a lot of hope. There is a lot of cutting edge research going on showing that one day we might be able to repair the spinal cord.
Just last week, a California bio-tech company started theof human embryonic stem cells injected into patients with spinal cord injuries. Scientists hope the cells, which are derived from human embryos, might grow other cells that allow nerve impulses to move along the spine and help patients regain motion.
Still, the fruits of that labor are years away.
In the meantime, athletes and their families are forced to deal with devastating spinal cord injuries, many of which never make the front page.
Just two weeks ago, Texas teenager Diondre Preston was paralyzed from the shoulders down. The Molina High School quarterback's spinal cord was severed during game play, according to the Dallas Morning News. Last year, at least two other high school players were paralyzed in Texas.
Last month was also the 10-year anniversary of the devastating hit that destroyed the career of Penn State corner back Adam Taliaferro. Doctors initially said he would never walk again. But he fought back and led his team onto the field with a short jog, a year later, according to the New York Times.
Taliaferro called LeGrand over the weekend, the paper says, to offer his support.
The same type of support Dr. Dietrich offers his patients.
"There is hope," he says. "We don't tell anyone that you will never walk again."
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