A week ago, Todd McNamee feared his 16-year-old son would never wake up.
Sean McNamee had already been in the hospital for two days, ever since he slammed his bare head on a field liner before football practice at Wharton High School. He lay in a medically induced coma. Friends and family and a spiritual advisor trickled in and out of his room in the intensive care unit. Infection set in.
Finally on Friday, nine days after the accident fractured his skull and nearly killed him, Sean woke up.
“Small steps on a long road but progress is what we want,” Todd McNamee wrote on Facebook.
After Sean regained consciousness, his family and their attorney said, he was responsive enough to nod his head yes or no. He could squeeze visitors’ hands. He recognized his parents.
“The prayers of many have been heard…” Steve Yerrid, his family’s attorney, said in a statement.
Those small steps toward recovery were far from certain Oct. 9.
Sean was playing catch with his teammates before practice that afternoon, on the field behind the high school. The 6-foot-2 junior linebacker/defensive end jumped over a defender, landed on the ground and struck his head on an unattended paint machine used to line the field.
Because he was practicing before drills officially began, Sean was not wearing a helmet.
The blow fractured his skull and required emergency surgery to remove bloody tissues and reduce the swelling in his brain. Doctors told his family Sean might not survive. If he did, it’s unclear what long-term damage might have been done to the left side of his brain, which controls functions like speech and the use of his right limbs.
Hillsborough County Public Schools and Yerrid are both investigating the incident.
Yerrid said the district has agreed to provide him with surveillance video of the accident and that the Yerrid Law Firm has already interviewed some teammates and eyewitnesses but hopes more come forward.
“I am certain the school board and its attorneys will assist us in seeing to it that all the facts are made known regarding the events of that day,” Yerrid said.
The McNamees have been flooded with support from area teams, including Tampa Catholic, Freedom and Wiregrass Ranch. Cypress Community Church hosted a prayer vigil Wednesday night.
His family posted a picture on social media of a get-well-soon football autographed by former Bucs coach Tony Dungy.
“We’re so grateful for all of the prayers that have been sent for Sean,” said his grandfather, Doug McNamee.
That outpouring of kindness included hundreds of messages sent across the country on Twitter. Last week, they used the hash tag #PrayForSean.
By Friday afternoon, they replaced it with a new one: #SeanStrong.
Matt Baker can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @MattHomeTeam.
Here is the complete statement from Yerrid:
As promised, I wanted to provide an update regarding Sean McNamee’s condition and where we are in terms of our investigation.
First, on behalf of the entire McNamee Family I have been asked to express their great appreciation for the absolutely tremendous outpouring of support. The prayers of many have been heard and today, Sean emerged from his coma. He was able to recognize and acknowledge the doctors, his mother, his father, his grandfather and several others. Amazingly, he was also able to respond to commands and had the ability to squeeze the hands of his loved ones for the first time since this horrific incident unfolded. We will continue to update all those people who have prayed for Sean and his family. Please continue to support them as we witness a miracle occurring.
With regard to our investigation, we have learned there is extensive video footage available from a number of different surveillance cameras. We have requested copies of all of the relevant footage and the attorneys for the school board have agreed to provide those video copies.
We have interviewed a number of Sean’s teammates, many of them eye witnesses to critically important events of that day. Unfortunately, some of these young men and their families have expressed a reluctance to come forward because they fear recrimination, loss of playing time, or other concerns that are making them hesitant to tell us what occurred. I can only urge those with information to step forward with the truth. I assure everyone that we will deal quickly and decisively with anyone who attempts to penalize or in other way silence the witnesses to this tragedy. I am certain the school board and its attorneys will assist us in seeing to it that all the facts are made known regarding the events of that day. Please contact our law firm with any information that may be helpful. If contacted by us, we ask you to come forward. The truth, the whole truth, needs to be known by Sean, his family, his fellow student athletes and the entire community.
We thank everyone from the bottom of our hearts.