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Hit changes, saves football player's life

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ATLANTA, Ga. -

In a rough sport, Elisha Shaw is big, and fast, and disciplined. Football taught him that. He says, "I had hard times that I had to get through. Hard games I had to get through, hard practices I had to get through."

In the Fall of 2012, the Tucker High defensive tackle exploded onto the Georgia high school football scene.

The University of Alabama was the first to come calling, and Shaw made up his mind, that's where he wanted to go.

But, that's when it happened. Tucker football team physician and Emory Sports Medicine's orthopedic surgeon Dr. Amadeus Mason says Elisha and the team were running through preseason drills. No one knew anything was wrong. But Dr. Mason says they know, "he was playing with the issues that were there before, and he was a time bomb waiting to explode."

Dr. Mason says he was lined up, trying to block and offensive player, who was trying to break his block. He says, "Elisha was not ready for the play to start, and the person hit him. Hit him on the side of his neck. It seemed very innocuous,"

But Elisha, whose only injury to this point had been a jammed finger, complained of neck pain. So, the Emory Sports Medicine team wanted to find out why, ordering a CT scan, and x-ray and an MRI. That's when they saw it. Elisha had a congenital curvature in his neck, and a previous injury, meaning he probably should never have been playing contact sports. But there was also something much more troubling. Right up at the top of his spine, where his spinal cord meets his brain, a ligament that stabilizes the spinal cord was torn open.

Dr. Mason says, "There was no longer anything holding the spine together, and if the spinal cord is coming down there, and you're not holding the spine, that's paralysis. And at the level just below the brain, you don't survive that." In other words, one more hit could have killed the younger play. Dr. Mason says, "When you don't have that ligament there, you're like a bobble-head, and the spinal can be severed instantaneously."

That's when doctors had to tell Elisha: no more contact sports, no more football. He says, "I didn't believe it. I still don't believe it. It's just something that, I guess, I just have to deal with, and just be smart with it."

Dr. Mason says football is a rough sport, and he doesn't feel Elisha's injury could have been prevented. But, he credits the Tucker schools trainers and Emory Sports Medicine with catching the underlying problem before Elisha could get hit again. This Summer, Shaw will undergo surgery to stabilize his spine.

He never gave up his dream of going to Alabama. In February, on signing day, the Crimson Tide came through for him. The school offered Shaw A four year "medical" scholarship. He won't play for Alabama, but he hopes to help on the sidelines, and learn from coach Nick Saban and his staff. He says, "The coaches, I have respect for them, they have respect for me, so they just took care of me."

One day, Elisha Shaw hopes to become a football coach, just like the men who mentored him.

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