It was a crisp Tuesday in November; perfect football weather for high school senior Isaac Pfeifer. As a starting outside linebacker and fullback for Norfolk Catholic, Isaac remembers the day being memorable on and off the field.
“It was the quarterfinals of the 2012 state playoffs, but it was also Election Day,” smiles Isaac. “The first time I could vote.” After casting his ballot with a friend, Isaac went home to get ready for the matchup against Fort Calhoun. His parents were also packing up, planning to get to the football field early. Game day was always a big day in the Pfeifer household.
“Isaac was heading out the door and I said, ‘hug me! I’m your biggest fan,’” remembers his mom, Becky Pfeifer. “That was the last time he gave me a really big hug.”
Within the first few minutes of the game, the ball was thrown high in the air. Isaac came in full speed, applying a big hit to a Fort Calhoun player. Both athletes fell to the ground. Isaac couldn’t move. “It sounded like a gunshot went off,” says Isaac. “My whole body went tingly. Felt like I lost my breath. A buddy tried helping me up, but I told him to leave me there. I knew something was wrong.”
Isaac suffered a spinal injury. He was carted off the football field and life-flighted to Nebraska Medicine. Once he arrived, the trauma team moved quickly, taking care of Isaac and his family. “They just did a fantastic job,” says Neil Pfeifer, Isaac’s dad. “Not once did we have a problem with anybody. Everything we needed was made available and the treatment was second to none.”
The next morning, Chris Cornett, MD, an orthopedic spine surgeon at the med center, operated on Isaac’s fractured C1 and C6 vertebrae. Dr. Cornett took a piece of bone from Isaac’s hip to reconstruct the C6. He also realigned Isaac’s spine and stabilized the back of his neck with rods and screws. Afterwards, Dr. Cornett assured the Pfeifer family that the surgery went smoothly. He did everything he could.
“Talk about angels, they are there,” says Isaac’s mom. “The doctors and nurses really have heart. For them to explain everything the way they did, and to care for Isaac, us and our four other children, I appreciate it. You don’t get that level of treatment everywhere.” After a week at the med center, Isaac spent four months in a rehabilitation hospital, regaining his strength and learning how to maneuver in a wheelchair.
He started college classes in the fall of 2013 and continues weekly physical therapy sessions. Since his spinal cord was bruised and not severed, Isaac is hopeful he’ll be able to walk again someday. “The fix doesn’t happen overnight,” explains Isaac’s dad.
“We are big believers in quality care – you get the best that’s in your area. What Isaac got as far as medical attention was critical. He has abilities that some folks didn’t think he would ever have and that’s because of the quick actions of the team at The Nebraska Medical Center. For that, we can’t thank them enough.”
As far as regrets go, Isaac doesn’t have any. He still loves football and keeps in touch with his former coaches and teammates. The biggest lesson he’s learned is to never take anything for granted. “Some of the best memories of my life involve football, so I can’t complain about the position I’m in,” says Isaac.
“I’m doing the best I can with what I have right now. You never know what’s going to happen the next day. Be thankful – I know I am.”