By RALPH D. RUSSO
NEW YORK — Karen LeGrand was hit with a rush of awful memories when she heard a Tulane player had been carted off the field with what turned out to be a spinal cord injury.
Having gone through it with her son, Eric, she couldn’t help but think of Devon Walker’s mother, who was home in Louisiana when her son was injured during a game at Tulsa.
“My heart just dropped and I felt for his mom,” LeGrand said Tuesday in a phone interview.
Walker was hurt in a head-on collision while trying to make a tackle Saturday. He underwent three hours of surgery the next day and was in stable condition Monday at a Tulsa hospital. The long-term prognosis is still not clear.
Inez Walker was back at home in New Orleans on Saturday. The game was televised there.
“I just thought how I would have felt if I was watching on television and I wasn’t there (when Eric was injured),” LeGrand said. “To see this on TV, how scary is that?”
Eric LeGrand injured his spine in 2010 while making a tackle during a game against Army. He was paralyzed below the shoulders. Karen LeGrand, who lives in New Jersey, was at that game at MetLife Stadium. She said she quickly sensed something was very wrong when Eric didn’t immediately get up.
While she wasn’t able to be next to Eric while he was being attended to by trainers and doctors, she was able to get onto the field as he was being placed in an ambulance.
“To not even be in the same location, to be hundreds of miles away, has got to be a horrible feeling,” she said. “It’s got to be the worst feeling ever.”
Karen LeGrand said she has reached out to the Walkers through Tulane and the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation.
The Reeve Foundation raises money for research to find a cure for spinal cord injuries. It was founded by the late Christopher Reeve, who was paralyzed in an accident at an equestrian competition in 1995, and his wife, Dana.
Karen LeGrand said she wanted to get word to the Walkers that they were praying for Devon, and that she and Eric would make themselves available to help in any way they could. She hasn’t heard back from Inez Walker, but she’s not surprised.
“When I was in the same situation, everybody is reaching out and it’s wonderful, but myself, I really didn’t want to talk to anybody,” she said.
“When she’s ready to reach out, I’ll be here.”
Walker, his family and Tulane can expect plenty of support from Rutgers.
Scarlet Knights coach Kyle Flood said he left a phone message with Tulane coach Curtis Johnson, and Rutgers head athletic trainer David McCune similarly reached out to his counterpart with the Green Wave.
Spinal cord injuries are unpredictable by nature and the first few days can be especially difficult because there is so much uncertainty.
“You’re not worried about what’s going to happen three months from now,” Karen LeGrand said. “You’re just trying to get through the day.”
Eric LeGrand has come a long way since he was injured and doctors told Karen that he would likely spend the rest of his life breathing with the aid of ventilator.
Eric LeGrand now does physical therapy five days a week, takes college classes and works as a radio announcer on Rutgers games.
The LeGrands are also working with the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation to start their own foundation.
“People need to know everything doesn’t stop because you have a spinal cord injury,” Karen LeGrand said.