TAMPA — They called him a miracle.
Sean McNamee, the Wharton High football player who spent nine days in a medically induced coma in October at Florida Hospital after striking his head on a paint machine on school grounds, returned to the hospital Wednesday to thank those who saved his life.
The medical staff referred to McNamee, a junior at Wharton, as a miracle. Wednesday marked six weeks since the incident, which resulted in severe brain swelling that nearly cost McNamee his life.
Embraced by medical staff he said “feels like part of my family now,” McNamee walked on his own, and with his parents, hugged nurses and surgeons and smiled for photos. He removed his protective head gear to reveal the partially removed left side of his skull, which has been temporarily inserted inside his stomach as the brain swelling continues to decrease.
“I am very lucky to be here,” said McNamee, who on Oct. 9 hit his head on a paint machine that was on Wharton High's football field before practice. “I would like to thank all of the excellent doctors and nurses at Florida Hospital for taking such good care of me. A special thank goes to (Yoav) Ritter, the neurosurgeon that saved my life.”
Nearly a dozen hospital staff members were in attendance for the press conference inside the hospital's Wallace Center.
“Caring for you here greatly impacted our life,” Ritter said to McNamee.
Ritter said timing was very crucial in saving McNamee's life. A quicker procedure, he said, would prevent further damage.
“Sean had a very traumatic injury, to see him in a very short period of time do so well, I think miracle was the appropriate word,” Ritter said.
On Oct. 18, McNamee awoke from his coma and was able to squeeze hands of his loved ones, nod his head to signal yes and no, and was taken off a respirator to breathe on his own.
“I also want to thank all of my teachers and friends at Wharton High School that prayed for my recovery,” McNamee said.
Ritter said implanting part of the skull into McNamee's stomach was not an abnormal procedure and chose the stomach because it was “one of the safest places to store the bone.”
“After that, basically, as the brain swelling decreases, you'll put the bone back on,” he said.
McNamee will continue his rehabilitation process, but according to Ritter, “he has a lot of work ahead of him.”
“I have made great process, but I know I have a long way to go before I am back to where I was before the accident,” McNamee said.
Hillsborough County School officials said McNamee was escorted off the field to see a trainer following the incident, and the trainer called McNamee's family. McNamee was not taken to the hospital from the school.
Yerrid Law firm, hired by the McNamee family, has launched an investigation into the incident, having already interviewed student-athletes, and has requested copies of footage from the football field from the school district.
“We are very concerned that the delay that was created because things weren't done, that we believe should have been done, put his life in much greater jeopardy than was needed,” said attorney Steve Yerrid. “We are very concerned about all the parents that entrusted their children and their teenage sons and daughter to the school system that their welfare has got to come first, has to come in the middle, and has got to come last. I assure you will hear more of that from us in the future.” firstname.lastname@example.org