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USC star expected to make full recovery

September 29, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
A USC Trojan star is expected to make a full recovery after a serious weightlifting accident, but he has a very long road ahead of him. Doctors said his spirits have been very good, and he has been communicating with family and friends using notes and hand signals.Running back Stafon Johnson suffered severe injuries to his neck and larynx on Monday, but doctors say it was his strong neck that helped him survive the accident.

"His neck was so solid and so muscular, that actually helped maintain his airway, and the discipline that one learns from being athletic also really helped him to calm down and just do what he needed to do. He took instruction very well," said trauma surgeon Dr. Gudata Hinika.

Johnson is on a breathing tube and a feeding tube on Tuesday, but doctors said anybody else who was not in his phyical condition would not have survived this type of accident.

Johnson is listed in critical but stable condition at California Hospital Medical Center. His family and teammates were gathered at the hospital on Monday night as he underwent more than seven hours of surgery, including an emergency tracheotomy to keep his airway open.

Johnson, a 5-foot-11, 210-pound senior from Compton, Calif., was lifting weights at Heritage Hall, bench pressing 275 pounds, when he lost his grip with his right hand. Instead of the bar coming down on his chest, it hit his neck, and he was reportedly spitting out blood.

Doctors said the bar crushed everything around his vocal chords, but it did not fracture his spine.

"There was a bunch of guys in the weight room because it was a regular workout, so they jumped to make sure he was OK right off the bat. One of our strength coaches was right there with him doing the drill with him, so he was cared for immediately," USC head football coach Pete Carroll said.

Johnson is not yet able to talk on Tuesday afternoon, but doctors said he is expected to make a full recovery and will play football again eventually.

Carroll asked fans on Twitter to keep the injured player in their thoughts and prayers.

"Not only is he a great football player, but he's a leader in that locker room. He's a senior in the team, so it'll be felt on campus for sure," said USC student Morrow Willis.

Whether or not Johnson will be able to play this season is up in the air. He could apply for a hardship waiver, or a medical redshirt, with the NCAA. However, according to the NCAA rules, if somebody has played more than 20 percent of their games and becomes injured during the season, they are not eligible for the waiver.

If Johnson applied, an exception could be made.

"For a young man like Stafon, especially where he is in his career and how well he's been doing, you just hate to hear of anything negative like this happen, especially senior year and where he's at right now as a player," said former USC fullback Brandon Hancock.

The star running back has scored five touchdowns and leads the team with touchdowns so far this year. He is the team's second leading rusher, and entered the season with 1,395 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns.

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