Community support boosts Parchment athlete as he regains movement after injury

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BY SCOTT DECAMP
sdecamp@kalamazoogazette.com
388-8518
KALAMAZOO TOWNSHIP -- Today, Austin Cole will slip on his maroon Parchment High School jersey like he has on so many football Fridays in the past.
Only this time, No. 5 will not be on the field when the Panthers' football team hosts Schoolcraft at 7 tonight. Cole, a senior, will not be at his usual receiver and outside linebacker positions. He will not be wearing a helmet or shoulder pads.
Instead, he'll have a brace around his neck and likely face swirling emotions, which have run the gamut since he suffered a spinal-cord injury in last Friday's game against Kalamazoo Christian.
Cole, 17, could move only his index fingers initially. His family feared he may be paralyzed from the chest down.
``The doctors were like, `Be prepared, because this might be the best he ever gets,''' said James Cole, Austin's father. But in the early hours of Saturday morning, Austin gradually regained feeling in his hands and feet.
Later, he was able to move the rest of his body. He's expected to make a full recovery, though his football career is over.
``I'm nervous a little bit,'' Austin said Thursday as he and his mother, Tammy Jozo, sat on the steps outside their Kalamazoo Township home. ``I'm excited to watch my brother play. I was hoping it was going to be with me, but ...''
A hard hit by a Kalamazoo Christian player last week left Cole motionless on the grass at Soisson-Rapacz-Clason Field. Cole was taken off the field on a stretcher, transported to Borgess Medical Center and admitted to the intensive-care unit. Jozo said her son remained in the intensive-care unit for a day-and-a-half before he regained all movement and was transferred to another room.
Jozo said ligaments on both sides of her son's spine were sprained and swollen. Doctors put Cole on steroids, which decreased the swelling and allowed him to move parts of his body.
Cole was released from Borgess on Tuesday and has been resting at home. He is still experiencing some dizziness and requires assistance, but he is expected to return to school Monday.
``Everyone's going to be there for me -- they're going to be excited to see me, but it's not going to be the same,'' said Cole, who must wear the neck brace at least until his next visit to the doctor in four to six weeks.
Cole's 15-year-old brother, sophomore Adrean Cole, has been elevated to the varsity football team and will play the same positions his brother did.
Austin's been told he won't be able to play football again, though he's hoping to get clearance to return for his true sporting love, basketball. Jozo said doctors treating her son have mixed opinions on whether that's a good idea.



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