Devon Gales and his mother, Tanisha Gales, made another trip to Sanford Stadium to take in a Georgia game, 14 months after Devon suffered a spinal cord injury between those same hedges.
The Gales arrived in the handicap-accessible section of the stadium, and once the word got out that Devon was present, many flocked to check on the former Southern University wide receiver.
The typical question pops up, "How are you doing?"
Rather than just a simple "I’m doing well," Devon and his mom had some news to share.
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In his fifth month of the Shepherd Center’s "Beyond Therapy" program, in which Devon attends a two-hour therapy session five days a week, he’s taken another step in his quest to walk once again.
"I have been able to stand up recently," Devon said in a brief interview with The Telegraph.
Certainly, Devon has his group of therapists assisting him. Nonetheless, the latest feat is a proud moment for the Gales family. At last check, Devon was able to move his leg at the hip, and now those subtle improvements are now being put together.
"They had him in a harness and a therapist was holding his knees," Tanisha added. "They then started moving his legs, and the staff told me that they could feel where he was trying to move them himself."
Devon injured his C6 vertebrae on a special-teams play in Georgia’s 2015 game against his Southern Jaguars. Since, Devon has undergone over a year’s worth of rehab, mostly at the Shepherd Center.
While Devon continues to make progress in the Shepherd Center’s outpatient program, the facility told the Gales family that it will continue to provide services if the advancements continue. The Galeses didn’t expect to still be in Atlanta nearly seven months after beginning the outpatient process. Yet they are ready to stay close to the rehab hospital and receive services, which Devon described as "top notch," until they feel as if he is near his long-term goal of walking again.
As Devon’s fight continues, the support from Georgia fans has yet to waiver.
"I have a friend that I met through UGA that’s always supportive, offering to help with my daughter Teah, bring us food or anything we may need." Tanisha said. "All Georgia fans will always come up and check on Devon and tell us that they’re praying for us when we see them in public. It’s truly awesome."
Having a physical progression checked off of the list, the Gales family is one step closer to being together yet again in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Currently, Devon, Tanisha and her daughter Teah stay in Atlanta, while Donnie, Tanisha’s husband, and younger brother Dalen reside at their home in Baton Rouge.
The family will reconvene in their home to celebrate the Thanksgiving but Devon wanted to stop in Athens to watch the Bulldogs take on Louisiana-Lafayette. But the brief reunion is temporary as they’ll have to say their goodbyes and split after the holiday break for Devon to continue his rehab in Atlanta.
That could soon change, however.
The Triumph Over Tragedy Foundation, which promised the Gales family an accessible home, is now in the process of fulfilling that pledge.
"We’ve purchased the land in Baton Rouge, even though we’re currently short of our fundraising goal," said Reggie Jones, the co-founder of the organization which helps those with spinal cord injuries.
Tanisha added that the current amount of money raised will be used to purchase the land so they can get started on the project. The organization will continue to invest in the building of the house as fundraising continues.
Devon’s goals away from therapy gym
Devon has spent numerous hours in the Shepherd Center facilities, working tirelessly to get his body in a position to walk again.
After his daily session, he returns home and begins to focus elsewhere.
"I’m trying to write a book about my journey," Devon said. "It’s something I’ve wanted to do, and I’m making slow progress. As of now, I’ve gotten through four pages, so we’ll see how it goes."
Athletes have been able to make their voices heard after sustaining spinal cord injuries, most notably Eric LeGrand, former Rutgers defensive tackle. LeGrand wrote the book Believe: My Faith and the Tackle That Changed My Life, and Devon is looking to do something similar to share stories about his physical fight.
In addition, Devon will soon resume classes as a student at Southern University for the first time since suffering the injury. While starting to work again to receive his degree, being tasked with an academic workload will give him avenue to shift his focus from physical work.
"We spoke to a professor and we’re going to get him in an online class, beginning this coming semester," Tanisha said.