Late hit causes severe injury; Hereford player needs 3-hour neck surgery


A Hereford High football player who suffered a potentially paralyzing neck injury on a late hit during Friday night's game against Franklin remains hospitalized in good condition after surgery at St. Joseph Medical Center, his father said last night.

Sophomore Aaron McKeegan underwent a three-hour operation yesterday afternoon to repair two vertebrae, one of them fractured.

"Aaron had two displaced vertebrae. One of them was cracked. They had to do a bone graft, taking material out of his hip," said Aaron's father, John McKeegan. "They had to put two plates in to hold both sides of the vertebrae in place. Then they fused together [the] C-4, C-5 and C-6 vertebrae. He's in a lot of pain."

Doctors told John McKeegan the vertebrae were "positioned very precariously" before surgery and that his son could have been paralyzed if they had moved slightly.

After being leveled by a defensive player in the fourth period Friday, Aaron McKeegan returned to the game and went home over the weekend. Although he complained of neck pain, the injury's severity was not determined until Monday.

"They [Hereford] have a sports medicine doctor come out to examine possible injuries from the weekend," John McKeegan said. "They thought the stiffness was beyond what could be expected with normal, severe muscle strain."

Doctors do not expect Aaron to play football again, his father said.

McKeegan was visited yesterday by coach Steve Turnbaugh and assistant John Walter, who gave him a football signed by the team. "They're going to dedicate the season to Aaron," John McKeegan said.

Franklin coach Greg Fuhrman acknowledged the injury was the result of "a late shot" by a second-team linebacker, whom he did not identify.

The Franklin player's hit didn't draw a penalty, but Furhman said he admonished the player immediately on the sidelines.

"If the officials didn't see the hit, they can't call it," said Jimmy Diggs, lead official among the four assigned to the game. "I'll have to look at the films."

Baltimore County coordinator of athletics Ron Belinko said the player was not suspended from school. Belinko said he expected to examine a film of the game "to see how the incident could have been prevented."

John McKeegan said the injury occurred with about two minutes left in the game, a 42-14 Hereford victory. McKeegan said his son, 6 feet, 165 pounds, was about 30 yards downfield when he made a one-handed reception before he and a defender fell to the ground.

"The player went on him. As Aaron was starting to stand up, the guy jumped on him, pushed his head in the ground and came down hard on his back," said John McKeegan. "All of this happened after the whistle blew."

Furhman's account was similar: "The kid [McKeegan] made a sensational catch and went down. The play was dead.

"He was slightly bent over when my linebacker tackled him. As they fell over, their collective weight landed on his [McKeegan's] neck," Fuhrman said.

Baltimore County policy requires the presence of a paramedic or an athletic trainer at every football game. Belinko said the attending paramedic examined McKeegan, but McKeegan exhibited no apparent sign of injury.

Peter Kotz, vice president of the Maryland Athletic Trainers Association, said: "There are several documented cases where you can have a hairline crack or a crack in the vertebrae and the symptoms may not be apparent."

Pub Date: 9/30/99

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