NFL quarterback Cam Newton went to a Charlotte hospital this week to visit a high school quarterback who is recovering from a serious head injury.
Jaylend Ratliffe, who is committed on a football scholarship to Georgia Tech, suffered a fractured skull in an ATV accident on July 30, shortly before the start of his senior season at Scotland High School.
After some scary moments, including brain surgery and a tracheotomy, Ratliffe’s health status has steadily improved over the last week. He’s still facing a long recovery but things have definitely turned in a positive direction.
On Tuesday, Ratliffe got a surprise visit from one of his favorite NFL players.
“Cam went up to see him in the hospital, and I thought that was awesome,” Scotland coach Richard Bailey told the AJC. “He brought some stuff from the Carolina Panthers, and they took some pictures together. Cam stayed for around an hour.
“Whomever made that happen, I’m happy because Cam Newton is one of his favorite players. Jaylend was pleased to see him. That was nice. It really seemed to bolster his spirits.”
What’s the latest with Jaylend’s health? He’s not getting out of the hospital anytime soon, but there’s a lot of other good news.
“He’s actually progressing pretty well,” Bailey said. “And he’s up walking and going through some rehab now. His cognitive skills are really good. He’s talking and stuff like that. All of that has been really positive.
“His left arm is starting to move now. They were able do some movements with his left arm, so that’s starting to come back. The biggest thing right now is that he’s still not able to swallow. Right now when he puts water in his mouth, it goes into his lungs. They are working on that, and it’s going to take some time. He’s still using a feeding tube, and obviously he has lost a lot of weight. He’s ready to drink a glass of water, I can tell you that.
“He’s ready to get out of the hospital, to be honest with you. But he is still a while away from that.”
The doctors haven’t given Ratliffe or his family any sort of timetable on his release because all brain injuries are different and they don’t have a standard healing time. His coach is hoping by the end of September, at the earliest.
Ratliffe still has to undergo brain surgery to put parts of removed skull back into place.
“Right now, he has to walk around the hospital with a helmet on,” Bailey said. “The doctors will put that bone back in, and it grows back together just like any other broken bone – and they say it actually grows back stronger than it was before.
“They will put it back in, and I don’t think he’ll go home until they do that … I really don’t know. But with these kind of things, one thing I do know is that doctors don’t throw out hypotheticals on release dates. They don’t want families too optimistic or too depressed because these things tend to progress at their own rate.”
Georgia Tech recently told Raliffe’s mother that they will honor his son’s scholarship offer, regardless if he’s ever able to play football again. Yellow Jackets assistant Bryan Cook has been in regular contact with the family.
“Georgia Tech is very supportive and I appreciate it because I know they’ve got a lot of things going on with preparing to play their first game,” Bailey said. “He’s a kid that’s not even on their team, but they’ve reached out to him and want to know what’s going on. They care. That means a lot to Jaylend and his family, along with me personally. We really appreciate that.”
What about Ratliffe’s football future? “He obviously thinks he’s going to play next week — or he wishes he was playing,” Bailey said.
“He definitely wants come back and play football. If it’s humanely possible, and the doctors allow it, I’m sure that he will. I just don’t know what is allowed, even years from now, when somebody suffers a traumatic brain injury like this.
“The doctors don’t want to tell him that he can’t play football again. I don’t even know if they know. Realistically, not many people are worried about that part of his life right now. They just want him to get out of the hospital and get on with his life.”
As a junior, Ratliffe led Scotland to an appearance in North Carolina’s state championship game. He was rated as a 3-star prospect and committed to Georgia Tech over North Carolina and N.C. State last March because of the opportunity to play quarterback in college.
- Note: An account to help pay medical bills for Ratliffe and his family has been set up at State Employees Credit Union by Laurinburg Police and Scotland County Rescue Squad. The account is only accessible to Ratliffe’s mom, Sharon, and anyone can donate to the account through any SECU branch …Donald and Bobbie Lowe are selling “2 Strong” T-shirts in honor of Ratliffe. The shirts costs $20 and the family can be reached at 910-280-9927.
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