Northeast High School senior defensive lineman Leshawn Williams went down with a severe, yet seemingly routine knee injury in a football game Friday night.
Before the weekend was over, part of the 17-year-old's right leg had been amputated.
Bonita Copeland, Williams' mother, did not tell her son about the amputation until after the surgery.
"I don't think he's grasped it all yet," Copeland said. "He's still recovering. We're all still trying to understand it."
The 6-foot, 330-pound Williams was injured on a fourth-down defensive play late in the first half of Northeast's 42-30 victory at Clearwater High. The game was delayed almost half an hour while medical personnel tried to determine if he had a broken leg or ligament damage. He was eventually taken off the field on a stretcher and to All Children's Hospital Johns Hopkins Medicine at his mother's request. He was later moved to Bayfront Health St. Petersburg.
Copeland did not attend the game, but received a call soon after her son was injured.
"They put him on the phone with me and he told me he was in pain," said Copeland, 45.
"… When I first looked at it, it looked like he had an MCL injury. Every time he lifted his knee he had pain. Then you could see the blood clot in the back of his knee."
Williams had tweeted Saturday that he couldn't move his toes: "I never cried so much in life! Waiting on results! Cnt (sic) move my toes."
Doctors spent the weekend trying to re-establish circulation in Williams' lower leg, and the decision to amputate from just above the knee was made Sunday night.
Copeland questions the arrival time of paramedics. She said the wait was "somewhere between 20 to 30 minutes" at the field before he was finally transported to All Children's.
While football games do have certified trainers in attendance, it is not unusual for public school athletic events in Pinellas County to not have ambulances on site. Due to budget cuts in recent years, the district does not provide them. Schools, however, can pay to have ambulances at games, with the cost usually around $450.
"My biggest concern was the response time," Copeland said. "I think if the ambulance got there sooner they probably could've helped him. … What if somebody broke their neck and was laying down on the field? With my son, it was a freak accident and it could've been something worse.
"Even though my son lost his leg, I'm happy he's still here. But the sooner the response time, the better."
Dr. Koco Eaton, a St. Petersburg orthopedic surgeon, said considering the severity of the injury, response time may not have mattered.
"It sounds as if the blood vessels were just shredded," Eaton said. "I don't believe an hour would've made a difference. Now, if you would've said two or three hours, then maybe."
Larry Collins, an assistant professor in orthopedics and sports medicine at the University of South Florida, said blood clots can be a result of traumatic injury. But they are very rare, especially in an otherwise young and healthy athlete. Sometimes patients have an undiagnosed clotting disorder, making them more susceptible.
Collins, a physicians assistant, had not heard about the case, but said it reminded him of what's known as "compartment syndrome."
Compartments are groupings of muscles, nerves and blood vessels in the arms and legs. A traumatic injury to the leg can sometimes cause blood to fill up these compartments. Without quick surgical intervention to relieve the pressure caused by this bleeding, the muscle tissue can die.
At Monday afternoon's football practice, the first without Williams, Northeast players and coaches were somber. They signed a banner that read, ''Get Well Soon Leshawn," then first-year head coach Jeremy Frioud addressed the team.
"This was just freakish, awful luck," Frioud said. "But we're going to be there as a team to help. . . . The first thing (Williams) texted to us after this happened was 'play hard.' That's exactly what we're going to do."
The team will wear "69'' stickers — representing his jersey number — on the back of their helmets to honor Williams for the season's final two games. They will also give out 100 T-shirts with Williams' number on them before this week's home game against East Lake.
Senior free safety/running back Devin Bowers was still trying to cope with what had happened to one of his best friends.
"You hear that it's one thing, an MCL, then the next thing you hear he's going to lose his leg," Bowers said. "How do you go from something that can be fixed to losing your leg? It doesn't make sense."
Staff writers Bob Putnam and Jodie Tillman contributed to this report. Contact Rodney Page at page @tampabay.com. Follow @RodneyHomeTeam.