Photographic memory: Houston WR finds inspiration in injury

Posted by ESPN.com's Graham Watson
Patrick Edwards has pictures all over the walls in his dorm room at Houston, but the one he keeps next to his bed and looks at every night before he goes to sleep is both morbid and inspirational.

It's a picture taken at the moment of impact, when Edwards' leg bent in a near 90-degree angle over the bar of a utility cart that was placed just a few yards out of the back of the end zone at Joan C. Edwards Stadium on the Marshall campus.

It's a gruesome reminder of how Edwards' career almost ended on Oct. 28, but it's also the reason it didn't.

"I kept getting a lot of cards in the mail from people in West Virginia and really all over the country and I got one one day and it had the picture in there," said Edwards, who was Houston's leading receiver with 46 catches for 634 yards at the time of his injury. "I look at the picture every day and I just can't believe that was really me. Now, walking regular, I thank God every day for that. Just to be able to walk again."

Edwards isn't just walking -- he's running, cutting and almost back to where he was when he suffered his injury. He can't participate in spring practice fully yet, but he runs the receiver drills, and continues to do physical therapy to be ready for the 2009 season.

But the memory of that Tuesday night game still haunts him.

Edwards doesn't remember the cart or much of the fade route that led him into the end zone. Most of his recollection of the accident that left his tibia sticking out of the skin near the middle of his shin comes from YouTube.

He does remember the screams of the crowd, though. It was the first thing he heard after the impact of the cart flipped him onto his back and his body went numb. He was looking straight up at the fans in the end zone and most of them looked away. The sight of Edwards' leg snapped cleanly in half and the blood pouring from the wound was too much for onlookers to take.

"After I hit the cart I didn't feel anything, I was just numb," Edwards said. "And really, I didn't want to look down because I knew something was wrong because I couldn't feel my leg... I was hoping I could get back up and walk, but they told me not to move because my leg was dangling. So I didn't know if I was going to be able to walk again or play football again. I was just scared and nervous, thinking of the worst."

Edwards was rushed to Cabell Huntington Hospital in Huntington, W.Va., where he underwent a 75-minute surgery to repair his tibia and his fibula. A steel rod was placed in his leg and pins in his ankle for stability.

Edwards stayed in Virginia for four days. He spoke to his parents back in Houston on the phone because they couldn't afford to come to West Virginia. By the time he got home, his mother was still crying.

"When he flipped over we didn't even know what happened because we didn't really see it," Patricia Edwards said. "The way he flipped over, though, I just ran out of the house because I just couldn't see that. Then the next thing I know he was going to the emergency room. I felt relieved when I talked to him before his surgery. He told me not to cry and that he was going to be OK."

A week and a half after his surgery, Edwards said he was out of his protective walking boot and trying to walk without assistance. It was also about the time Edwards was re-admitted to a Houston-area hospital because he had been getting dizzy and sick and trainers feared his injury might have been infected.

But it wasn't and Edwards wasn't deterred by the minor setback. He started doing physical therapy twice a day and started drinking as much orange juice and milk as his body could handle. It was a suggestion by his father, Patrick Dixon, who had suffered a similar injury while playing basketball and came back full strength in two months.

Two months after Edwards' injury, he started walking with less of a limp. By late December, he was jogging, and by mid-January Edwards said he was able to run.

"I started working on my legs, getting them stronger, and soon enough I started running and really I haven't lost a step. My leg just has to get stronger," Edwards said. "I was just so amazed to be able to run like that again because at first I thought I wasn't going to be able to do anything anymore."

At the end of January, Edwards had the screws taken out of his ankle and he said doctors were amazed at how quickly he had healed.

Now it's time for him to heal on the field.

Edwards has been limited to light running and catching during Houston's spring drills, but he's eager to get out against a defensive back or safety and see just how far his leg has come. Edwards said he's not going to change his play. He doesn't even plan to take that quick look down when he's running a fade route through the end zone.

But he does wonder how much the trauma of the incident will hurt him on game days. Edwards mentioned right after the accident that he planned to sue Marshall for negligence, and though his family asked him to put it on the backburner while he was rehabbing, Edwards said whether he's able to be his old self will determine whether he pursues legal action against Marshall.

"When the season starts, I'm going to see how well I can come back," Edwards said. "If I'm limited or if I can't do things that I used to do then I'll take legal action when the season starts."

But Edwards hopes it doesn't come to that. He hopes that he's able to return to the form he left on the fateful night in October and inspire the world with his recovery the way the photo of his accident inspired him.

"The coaches call me 'Bionic Man' because I was back walking and running so fast," Edwards. "Bionic Man. Yeah, I like that."