Patricia Dugas can't help but notice that every time she enters Kevin Everett's hospital room, her son looks more and more like himself.
``I can't even explain it to you; he's like a miracle,'' Dugas said Wednesday, her voice breaking in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. ``There's not a whole lot, but enough to give me some hope. And that's all I need, because hope will take me a long way.''
Look at how far it's gotten her since Sunday, when Everett, the Buffalo Bills reserve tight end, sustained a life-threatening spinal cord injury while making a tackle in the team's season opener against Denver.
Dugas left her home in Port Arthur, Texas, on Monday fearing her son would never walk again. Everything changed Tuesday, when she watched Everett move his limbs and feel her touch when he was partially awakened from a sedated state.
By Wednesday, doctors at Buffalo's Millard Fillmore Gates Hospital were confident enough to remove Everett from a respirator and began amending their initial prognosis from ``bleak'' to ``cautious optimism,'' regarding the chances of his recovery.
``The patient's made significant improvement. But no one should think the functions in his legs is close to normal. Not even close,'' said Dr. Kevin Gibbons, the hospital's supervisor of neurosurgery. ``If you ask me, 'Would he walk again?' I would tell you that I wouldn't bet against it. But he has a long way to go.''
Everett can wiggle his toes, bend his hip, move his ankles, elevate and kick his leg, as well as extend his elbows and slightly flex his biceps, Gibbons said. While all are significant signs of improvement, he noted that Everett has yet to show any movement in his hands.
``Walking out of this hospital is not a realistic goal, but walking may be,'' said Dr. Andrew Cappuccino, the team's orthopedic surgeon.
Dugas spoke publicly for the first time Wednesday, elated at what she's witnessed since her initial visit, when she found her son under heavy sedation and his body functions controlled by life-support systems.
``It was devastating,'' she said. ``I kind of stepped back. But I had to go forward. And I got up to him and told him I loved him.''
``Happy,'' said Dugas, who has spent the past three days at her son's bedside. ``I'm extremely happy. I'm grateful.''
Everett was hurt after ducking his head while tackling the Denver Broncos' Domenik Hixon during the second-half kickoff of the Bills' season opener. He dropped face-first to the ground after his helmet hit Hixon high on the left shoulder and side of the helmet.
Unable to get the Bills game on TV at home, Everett's mother called several sports bars and learned one just around the corner was showing the game.
Dugas walked in as the second half began, just in time to see her son fall to the ground.
``That's the first thing I saw. I was so upset. I was distraught, and I started panicking, 'What can I do? And I've got to get to him because he's not getting up,''' she said. ``I can't explain to you how I felt, because there's no words for it. It was the worst thing I had ever saw.''
``'Get up,''' Dugas recalled saying. ``I mean, I can't explain it. It was just horrible.''
With help from some bar patrons, Dugas composed herself, went home and immediately began making plans to travel to Buffalo.
Then came the next shock.
Cappuccino called from the hospital to inform Dugas of her son's condition. A few minutes later, Everett was on the phone.
``He put him on the phone and (Everett) said, 'Momma, don't worry. I love you. I love my sisters. I know I'll be all right,''' Dugas said. ``He asked if I was coming, and I said, 'Momma is coming. You don't even worry about that.'''
Despite knowing Everett's condition, Dugas was comforted by hearing his voice.
``I was so proud of him, laying in the condition that he was in and thinking about me, his family'' she said.
His Bills family isn't just thinking about him numerous players also visited Everett on their day off Tuesday.
``I started cracking little jokes to keep him upbeat,'' tight end Robert Royal said. ``He was actually laughing a little bit when we were talking about football stuff. ... He was excited, and we told him we would stick by him no matter what.''
Coach Dick Jauron, who also visited Everett, acknowledged it would be difficult for his team to prepare to play at Pittsburgh on Sunday.
``There's no way to pretend that Kevin's situation does not occupy our thoughts and our conversations a lot of the time. It certainly does,'' Jauron said. ``But I think our guys are professional enough, and they really care enough about what they do.''
Dugas thanked the Bills, the hospital medical staff and fans for their work and support. Part of her time with Everett is spent reading him the many cards and letters that already have arrived at the hospital.
``We're going to take it slow getting him up on his feet, but we hope to see him walk out of here,'' Dugas said. ``I always told him when he was a little boy, 'You show them better than you can tell them.' He's going to be fine. I really believe it.''
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