October 27, 2007, was senior night for the Newton High football team - an opportunity designated to recognize accomplishments before the home crowd one last time.
But senior Andrew Fulmer never envisioned being rolled out on the field in a wheelchair, especially since just one week earlier he was the starting defensive tackle for the Rams.
Fulmer sustained a highly serious limb threatening injury on Oct. 20 against M.L. King when an opposing player crashed head-first into his right knee, dislocating it and causing a severed peroneal nerve.
In fact, the accident was so serious doctors told him they needed to undergo immediate surgery, and that there was a possible chance of amputation.
Those words alone are enough to make anyone uncomfortable, let alone a 17-year-old kid who goes from playing a game he loves to never playing it again.
"Yeah, I was a little nervous," admitted Fulmer, "but I just tried to keep thinking good thoughts."
According to Newton coach Nick Collins, it was the first time he had ever seen that type of injury on the football field.
"That may have been one of the most sickening feelings I've ever had as a coach," said Collins. "We were trying to sub (Andrew) for someone else for a passing situation, but the guy who was supposed to go in for him was having his helmet repaired. Andrew had to go back on the field, so technically he wasn't even supposed to be on the field for that play."
Fulmer, who holds no ill-will about the incident, described the play which would ultimately change his life forever.
"The guy was running with the ball on a sweep, and I was trying to take an angle to get after him," recalled Fulmer. "I was looking (one) way and then turned to see this guy going to block me. After that, I fell and was in immediate pain.
"I know he didn't mean to do it," he added. "It just happened; it's part of the game."
Andrew's mother, Kim, recalled the moment it happened - she had a feeling and sense of dread no mother ever wants to experience.
"We knew a player was down," she said. "My husband and I were looking and saying, 'Where's No. 63? Where's No. 63?' And then (someone) said, 'That's Andy,' so then you just have to sit there and wait.
"But he didn't get up."
Originally, Fulmer thought he had broken his leg. After all, it wasn't the first time he had been seriously hurt on the gridiron. Twice Fulmer has sustained shoulder injuries, forcing him to sit out his eighth grade year and once again as a sophomore in high school.
This time around, however, was a different story.
"The amazing thing to me was his composure," said Collins. "The toughness he showed really amazed me."
The game was stopped for approximately 25 minutes. As for Kim, it seemed as if her heart had stopped altogether. After witnessing trainers and coaches call for more help, she was already on the field running by the time the ambulance had reached her son.
Asking him repeatedly what was wrong, Andrew replied, "Mom, it's OK. My knee hurt at first, but now I think it's OK."
But things weren't OK.
In fact, Andrew was in shock. So when Kim was warned not to look because there had been a deformity, and as paramedics applied a large splint to his leg, her shock sank in.
"I'm thinking, 'Oh, my God,'" she said.
Under the Knife
Pressed for time based on the seriousness of the injury, Fulmer was rushed to DeKalb Medical Center.
"The guy said we'd be lucky to get in there before he comes out of shock," said Kim.
Ten minutes after arriving at the hospital, Andrew's shock wore off. However, two large injections of morphine helped alleviate the pain, if only temporarily. He then underwent an urgently needed arthrogram to make certain he did not have a vascular injury. He did not; however, Andrew did lose all motor function related to peroneal nerve in his lower extremity.
It wasn't until Nov. 12 when Fulmer would meet his surgeon Dr. John Xerogeanes (Dr. "X"), Chief of the Emory Sports Medicine Center at the Emory Orthopedics and Spine Center.
"It's fairly rare," admitted Xerogeanes of the type of injury, adding that he only sees two to four cases such as this out of every 600 to 800 knee injuries each year.
Before that, the Fulmers had consulted three separate orthopedic physicians, each declining the case based on the significance of the injury.
"I still never understood the seriousness of it until we were at about the third doctor, who looked at us and said, 'I can't do this,'" said Kim.
According to Xerogeanes, this type of injury usually occurs twice a year in a train wreck or car wreck, and the leg is typically lost.
"These can be difficult operations," said Xerogeanes. "(This) was bad because he tore a nerve that controls and lifts the foot up. It's very close to major arteries in the back of the knee, so if you're not used to doing that it makes for a difficult operation."
Prior to undergoing surgery, Kim did her best to keep things at bay for her son.
"I (was) trying to keep it light for his sake," said Kim. "Dr. 'X' then came in and said, 'Wow, you sure are lucky - you should have lost your leg. You and I are going to be best friends; we're going to take care of this together.'"
Helping along the way was also Jennifer Seabolt, physical therapist assistant at Newton Medical Center.
"We saw Andrew prior to the surgery trying to help strengthen (and) provide more stability in the knee so when he did have the surgery, he didn't come back so weak," said Seabolt.
On Nov. 30, Fulmer underwent surgery to perform the reconstruction; it took nearly seven hours.
"He's a great kid," said Xerogeanes, who is also head orthopedist and team physician for Georgia Tech, Emory University and Agnes Scott College. "He understood it would be a long, tough injury, but he said, 'I need to do what it takes to play sports again.'"
For Fulmer, the magnitude of the entire process did not sink in until the second night he was home from the hospital.
"I was like, 'Things are going to be different from now on, so you've got to get through this.'"
Past, Present and Future Outlook
Since the accident, things have indeed been different for Fulmer, and he is still learning to adjust on a daily basis.
When he was first injured, Fulmer missed about a week of school. But when he returned, though still in a great deal of pain, his teachers were more than accommodating, allowing him to catch up on any missed work.
"I'm dealing with it quite well, actually," said Fulmer. "My family and friends especially have been more than helpful, including my doctors and teachers."
Initially he was confined to a wheelchair; then he used crutches for three months. He just started driving two weeks ago. Before, a friend picked him up for school and other activities.
Three days a week Fulmer is required to undergo physical therapy at Newton Medical Center.
"Post-operatively we saw Andrew and have been following a specific protocol set aside by his physician," said Seabolt, who has been by his side throughout the entire process. "We're only allowed to progress him at certain increments, according to what the protocol is, and because of the extent of his injuries we've had to go much slower.
"But Andy's doing incredibly well," she added. "He's a super patient who does not go outside of what his recommendations are."
For now, Fulmer - who still has 12 to 18 more months of physical therapy - must wear a protective knee brace at all times to maintain stability. He follows a basic home exercise program that also helps strengthen the leg.
On Wednesday, doctors will determine when a second surgery to augment Andrew's motor function of his lower extremity will take place.
Whether or not he will recover full use of his leg is yet to be determined.
"With the nerve injury like it is, it still remains to be seen," said Seabolt. "At this point we're just going to wait and see what the body does, but the knee is coming along very well. He's getting stronger and stronger with it."
According to Seabolt, it's very rare to treat someone with this type of injury, and this particular instance was one of the more serious ones involving the knee that she has ever treated.
"We don't usually see someone with this extent," said Seabolt. "This is a massive injury. We see a lot of ACL and ligament injuries that don't always need surgery, but when they do we follow the specific protocols that we're given."
Fulmer, who still maintains As and Bs despite his recent setback, received a scholarship to Young Harris College and will begin classes in the fall. Prior to the accident, he had considered extending his football career somewhere as a walk-on.
"I guess some things just aren't meant to be," he shrugged.
Despite missing three games after the injury, Fulmer still made The Covington News 2007 All-County Football Team.
"He's a great kid," said Collins. "Very quiet, but he's a workman's type kid. Andrew showed up on time everyday and got his work done. He was very consistent and a very solid player (who) knew where he was supposed to be when he was supposed to be there. That's the thing that I really admired about him; he was a player you could really count on."
Last season Fulmer recorded 28 total tackles, including three for a loss and three sacks.
Although he does not have complete feeling in his leg, Fulmer is hoping that after another operation he will eventually regain full use of his leg. Nevertheless, he is the first to show appreciation toward everyone who has helped him progress along the way.
"They've been really helpful and nice," he said, "and very encouraging and positive."
Teammates like Colby Westbrook, George Clackum, Gavin Bowman, Matt Veal, Tim McGuinn and Josh Cloer, including Emily Watt, have been just a few by Andrew's side since the accident.
"His friends supported him," said Kim, "They came and visited, they stayed with him, they called him and they kept him in touch with what was going on at school, so that was good.
"We joked saying that his new sport will be ping-pong or chess," she added. "He's pretty good at chess."