Jets' Byrd gets a leg up in his recovery Makes giant strides, one small move at a time

January 13, 1993|By Rich Cimini | Rich Cimini,Newsday

NEW YORK -- At a packed news conference yesterday at a New York medical center, Dennis Byrd was the same ol' Dennis. He was thoughtful and emotional and funny. And a show-off. That was the best part.

When a television reporter asked him if he could move his right leg for the cameras, Byrd was happy to oblige. Beaming with pride, he lifted his leg and tapped his foot on the floor.

"I'd sit here and tap-dance for you," a smiling Byrd told his audience, "but I don't want this to be a circus show."

He has come a long way in six weeks.

Byrd, taking a break from his intensive rehabilitation regimen, made his first public appearance since breaking his neck in a chilling collision with teammate Scott Mersereau. Byrd was last seen Nov. 29 at Giants Stadium, which he left in an ambulance, legs paralyzed and his neck supported by sandbags.

Shortly after 11 a.m. yesterday, Byrd, in a wheelchair, entered the news conference at The Mount Sinai Medical Center, saw the crowd and raised his arms triumphantly, as if to say, "Here I am." Byrd, wearing a smile and a New York Jets warmup suit, proceeded to captivate the audience with gripping accounts of his tragic accident and his rehabilitation.

"The physical therapy is difficult," said Byrd, who has lost 35 pounds since the injury, down to what he called "a svelte 230." "If it hurt this much to play football, I would've quit a long time ago."

Byrd, accompanied by his wife, Angela, discussed his progress, taking great pleasure in sharing the latest development. Six days ago, he stood for 15 seconds in waist-deep water. By himself. Several times.

"To me, that was a big step, emotionally," Byrd said. "At first, it was a little like standing on a flagpole, kind of hard to get your balance."

And on Saturday, he got out of bed and into his wheelchair. By himself.

Despite the encouraging signs, Byrd stopped short of predicting that he will walk again. He said he has "lofty goals . . . and I'm going to attain the goals," but he also was realistic. Byrd has been told by his doctor, Kristjan Ragnarsson, that the chance of a full recovery is unlikely.

"I hope I'm wrong," said Ragnarsson, one of several doctors in attendance. "Anything between this and full recovery is unknown. He knows this. I'm hoping like everyone else."

Byrd, described by Ragnarsson as the ideal patient, was upbeat throughout his Q&A with the media. He was emotional at the outset, choking back tears when he thanked his wife for her support throughout the nightmare. Angela is pregnant with the couple's second child, due Aug. 1.

"This has been the hardest time of my life," said Byrd, his eyes welling up and his voice cracking. He paused 25 seconds before adding, "And she's been beside me every step of the way."

Throughout the session, Byrd nervously tapped his right foot. "I can do all kinds of stuff," he said.

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