Georgia's Veazey paralyzed but inspiring others

Chance Veazey saw his dreams right in front of him.

Fresh out of high school, the 18-year-old headed to the University of Georgia on a baseball scholarship. A star prep second baseman, playing right away seemed possible.

He put together an impressive September in Athens and was wowing Georgia coach Dave Perno with his skills and gritty attitude.

Then, tragedy struck. An accident on Oct. 28 left him paralyzed from the waist down. His life changed. His resolve did not.

"As bad as the injury was, the percentages are not great to be able to walk again,” Veazey said. “But they never say never. They do think in my lifetime there possibly could be a cure for my condition.

"I'm just having to deal with my situation and praying to God that he will send me a miracle."

Veazey’s optimism is inspiring. Still the memories of that fateful night are haunting for all involved.

Fall break was approaching and Chance Veazey planned to head home to Tifton, Ga., to hunt with family and friends. He hopped on his scooter on the Georgia campus, looking forward to the trip. Suddenly, on the way home, he collided with a car despite trying to avoid a crash.

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Chance Veazey was left paralyzed after a car accident, but now is an inspiration to all.

(Georgia)

Officers on the scene called Perno and told him he needed to rush to St. Mary's hospital.

"The kid knew right away what had happened. He couldn't feel his legs at all," Perno said. "He was scared and upset, and I knew something very bad was wrong. I could also kind of feel his spine bulging out of his back."

Perno was speechless.

"I really didn't know what to say to him at the time. I just sat there and waited for doctors and his parents to show up," he said. "It was just devastating to deal with."

Doctors confirmed the stinging truth. Veazey wouldn’t be playing baseball anymore.

"There are two kinds of fractures to the spine: incomplete and complete. Chance had a complete fracture," Perno said. "He had surgery that day and we still had plenty of hope for him. I just told him to hang in there and get better."

Perno brought the Bulldogs together to tell them about the accident and Veazey's condition. Many teammates skipped break to support through him through the grueling surgery.

The procedure revealed important details regarding Veazey's prognosis. He had no trouble moving from the waist up. But from the waist down, he was immobile.

The doctors decided to send Veazey to the Shepherd Center in nearby Atlanta.

"This is by far the most difficult thing I've ever had to go through," Perno said. "I love the kid and I just love being around him. He would've been an immediate contributor for our baseball team, but I now can only think about how much energy he has and how upbeat he always is."

Georgia players and Perno continue to make regular visits to their paralyzed teammate. The coach often brings Veazey dinner and talks to him for a few hours before making the 90-minute drive back to campus.

Georgia trainer Mike Dillon also has been an integral part of Veazey's rehabilitation.

"People have just been great in supporting Chance," Perno said. "We have been offered so many things to help this situation.”

It wasn’t long before others from outside the Georgia baseball program came to Chance Veazey’s aid.

He received a visit from the Georgia football team prior to their road game against rival Georgia Tech two weeks ago. The team signed a football for Veazey and also began wearing a decal on the back of their helmets with the letters "CV" in mid-November.

Back in Atlanta, Georgia Tech baseball players went to Yellow Jackets coach Danny Hall and asked about doing something for Veazey.

"The rehab center where Chance is located is not far from our campus, so our guys felt compelled to do something to help him and support him," Hall said. "Our two teams may fiercely compete in the spring, but you throw rivalry out the window in a situation like this."

Several Yellow Jackets have visited Veazey to chat and challenge him on PlayStation.

Still, the players wanted to do more. Before the football game against the Bulldogs, the Yellow Jackets went from tailgate to tailgate across the campus hoping to raise money for Veazey. They collected more than $2,000.

"The Tech team coming to see me was special,” Veazey said. “We are two rival schools and those guys don't really know me, but they still found a way to come see me. That really says a lot about how big my support system is. I'm just lucky and honored to have that during this time."

Country music star Trisha Yearwood also is fundraising for Veazey.

At a recent gathering in Veazey's hometown, Yearwood offered to match whatever the crowd in attendance raised. The crowd produced $100,000. Yearwood contributed in kind.

"That was just great," Perno said. "Everyone has rallied around the kid, but that's not a surprise because all you have to do is meet him to realize how special he is and how great of a family he comes from."

Veazey plans to finish the classes he started in the fall this spring. He will head back to Athens next fall to continue as a student.

Perno said there is a plan to cover Veazey's tuition and other expenses.

Chance Veazey isn’t shagging baseballs or showing off a big bat. These days, he is getting used to life in a wheelchair.

"You really don't ever think about how tough life is in a wheelchair, but I know now. Now I realize how tough it is and how not everything is wheelchair accessible," Veazey said. "You'd never realize how tough it is to transfer to your car, to take a shower, get in a car, eating out at restaurants and things like that until you actually have to do it.

It has been very tough, but it gets better each day."

Veazey’s commitment in the weight room before the accident has helped in the rehabilitation process.

"Being an athlete like I was, I worked out a lot," Veazey said. "I think that definitely was an advantage for me coming into this situation."

Veazey spends most of each day in rehab. He gets an hour and a half for lunch in the middle of the day and typically takes a nap late in the day unless he is expecting a special visitor.

"The folks here work really hard on being able to make you independent as possible, and that takes work," Veazey said. "They want you to be able to transfer to your chair, be able to pull your legs up, scoot your body around. They also want you to be able to transfer yourself to a shower and toilet. They even teach you how to cook sitting down. There are safety issues of being in a wheelchair all day long, so it's a lengthy process."

Veazey still isn't able to stay the night outside the center, but he was able to go home on Thanksgiving Day to spend time with his family in Tifton.

He is expected to be discharged from the Shepherd Center on Dec. 18 and will head home for 10 days. Upon returning to Atlanta, he will be sent to the Woodruff Family Residence Center, where he will spend two-to-four weeks before being released for good.

For now, Veazey is concentrating on the final few weeks of rehab with hopes of someday being able to walk again.

Maybe he’ll even play baseball again.

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