ATHENS — Devon Gales was back in Athens on Thursday to say thank you to all the individuals who assisted with his treatment and therapy after suffering a serious spinal cord injury in a game against Georgia last September. What he didn’t know was he would be leaving with the promise of a new house.
Gales, who played defensive back and special teams for Southern University when he suffered a paralyzing injury on Sept. 26, found out during a news conference that the Triumph over Tragedy Foundation is in the process of raising funds to build the Gales’ fully handicap-accessible house in Baton Rouge, La.
Gales was released from Atlanta’s Shepherd Center on Wednesday. The family was uncertain how it was going to handle the new challenges awaiting them in a three-bedroom house that had not yet been modified for handicap accessibility.
“House modifications aren’t something insurance pays for. As you can imagine, it’s not cheap,” said Wesley Jones, co-founder of the Triumph over Tragedy Foundation and a paraplegic himself due to a childhood accident. “We’ve been able to help several families and do modifications for homes. Unfortunately, the Gales’ home is one that can’t really be modified.
“So what we’re here today for is, our foundation is going to launch a campaign starting today, we’re going to raise money and we’re going to build these guys a new home. That’s what they deserve, that’s what we’re going to do.”
The reaction from the Gales’ family was priceless. Devon Gales smiled broadly, his stepmother Tanisha Gales gasped and covered her mouth and father Donny Gales briefly and silently wept.
“I’m surprised,” Donny Gales said. “It took a lot or pressure off of me as far as wondering what I’m going to do or how I’m going to modify the house that we’re in. It’s a three-bedroom house and there’s five of us, and his needs are greater than my other two kids. … Hearing this has just been mind-blowing.”
Donny Gales said he had already planned to build a house and had been seeking financing to do so. However, he said they were recently turned down for a loan because of an unexpected ping on his credit from a Wal-Mart card he didn’t realize his wife had obtained. He had been told it’d take 30 days to clear up.
“That was a setback for us,” Donny Gales said. “The Lord works in mysterious ways.”
Individuals can donate to the cause by visiting the Triumph Over Tragedy website. There, they can either by one of the sports shirts or hoodie sweatshirts or just give a donation. The website crashed early Thursday afternoon due to the amount of activity.
“People have called and wanted to know what they could do to help this family,” Jones said. “Now’s the time to help.”
As for Gales himself, he exhibited the upbeat and positive personality that has shown through since the very beginning of his recovery.
“Sept. 26th will be a day I’ll never forget,” he said. “It’s just been a blessing to find out what wonderful people are here. My journey began way before this. I’ve been fighting my whole life. … But this is just a temporary setback. It’s another blessing. I know I’m going to walk out. I know I’m going to have a testimony that I will have to speak on.”
Also attending and speaking at Thursday’s news conference were Lovie Tabron, the director of sports medicine from Southern University; Dr. Kim Walpert, the neurosurgeon who performed surgery on Gales; Ron Courson, UGA’s director of sports medicine; Athens-Clarke County Mayor Nancy Denson; and ESPN college football analyst David Pollack, a Georgia football letterman who suffered a broken neck his second year in the NFL.
After a meet-and-greet with all those individuals in the team meeting room on the first floor of UGA’s Butts-Mehre football complex, Gales headed over to the Georgia Center for Continuing Education, where he ate lunch with UGA student-athletes at their training table setup over there.
Gales said he now has some feeling in his lower extremities and hopes to walk again some day. He plans to return to classes at Southern University but doesn’t know yet what he wants to do after college.
Check back to DawgNation.com a little for a full story on Devon Gales and his recovery.