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‘This is a step forward’: Paralyzed at UGA game, Devon Gales’ next goal is to drive again

How Devon Gales’ paralyzing accident changed him as a person

Devon Gales, who was injured in a football play at a Georiga game, discusses his rehabilitation at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta.
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Devon Gales, who was injured in a football play at a Georiga game, discusses his rehabilitation at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta.

Devon Gales has been working tirelessly at the Shepherd Center to learn to drive a car again. As he went through testing, one of the biggest challenges didn’t involve anything from the driver’s seat.

It was a matter of breaking down his wheelchair so it could be placed in an accessible minivan. Gales’ minimal hand function, however, prevented him from doing that successfully. His most-promising solution was to undergo a tendon transfer surgery on each of his arms, and the four-hour operation took place Tuesday morning in Atlanta.

“He is in a little pain because the feeling is coming back in his arms,” Gales’ mother, Tish Gales, told The Telegraph Wednesday morning. “We should be discharged today and he is ready to go home and get in his own bed.”

The surgery involved moving muscles from his bicep to his triceps and forearms. He’ll have to remain in full-arm casts for four weeks, and will then return to the doctor to evaluate progress and next steps.

Devon Gales underwent surgery this week to improve motor function in his hands. The surgery involved moving bicep muscles to his triceps and forearms. Tish Gales Courtesy of Tish Gales

The surgery is the latest step in Gales’ journey after a life-altering event that took place in September 2015. Gales, a former Southern University wide receiver, suffered a fractured C6 vertebrae in a collision with former Georgia place-kicker Marshall Morgan and was paralyzed from the waist down.

“I think it made me stronger as a person ... I’m really not scared anymore,” Gales previously told the Telegraph. “It was a tragic accident, nobody wished for that to happen but if it was to happen, why not just go all out (in recovery)?”

The Gales family has since resided in the Atlanta area, and they’re all together for the first time since the injury in Lawrenceville. Gales’ father, Donnie Gales, recently received a transfer with UPS from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to Atlanta. They’re awaiting an accessible home to be built in Jefferson, Georgia, and a source involved in those efforts said June is a targeted completion date.

Gales is continuing rehab at the Shepherd Center’s “Beyond Therapy” program twice a week, and Tish said they’ve recently altered the routine due to Gales’ increased strength. He also made a return to the sport on March 18 as a coach with the Jefferson Dragons football team.

“It is definitely intense,” Gales said of the program in 2016. “They’ve been working with me every day. I go for the two hours. I feel stronger, a lot stronger than I was when I came. They’ve made me lift a lot of weight, more than I used to.”

While Gales’ surgery entails an extensive recovery time, it is one he is prepared for and eager to get past. His ultimate goal is to walk once more, but an opportunity for increased mobility was too much to pass up.

“His lack of support in his hands wouldn’t allow him to drive,” Tish said. “Once he found out about this surgery, he wanted to do it.”

Rather than a setback, it’s another step in a journey that is seeing many positives.

“I have faith and believe this is a step forward,” Tish said. “He is destined for greatness.”