Ex-Everman player, paralyzed for a decade, struggles to keep hope alive

For believers across the globe, Christmas is the day when more than 2,000 years ago, in a land of nothing but hopelessness, hope for all of mankind was born.

It’s a message worth its weight in gold to Corey Fulbright.

“I have to stay upbeat, otherwise I might as well give up,” Fulbright said in a slow and deliberate manner and in a low, gravelly voice. “And that’s not an option for me.

“I pray every day all day. My faith is what’s keeping me grounded.”

It has been 10 years since Fulbright, a former Everman High School football player, lay prostrate on the turf of the Alamodome in San Antonio during the Class 3A Division I state championship football game.

The play was a game-changer for Everman, which went on to win the title.

It was a life-changer for Fulbright and his family. The moment he began living a life in paralysis from the neck down.

But, to Fulbright, the Lord passes out challenges only to the strong.

And Fulbright remains strong-willed and determined despite a spate of setbacks stemming from recurring infections, mostly of the bladder and kidneys.

Stints in the hospital have been frequent the past few years, he said, including a return this week. Some have been long, too, such as in November when he said he spent most of the month in a hospital bed.

“I have to be strong for my family,” he said. “When I’m down and out, they’re down and out. I try to stay strong for everybody.”

Plus, he has things he wants to do and differences he wants to make.

Fulbright said sickness on at least two occasions has brought him to the brink of the next life, but he refuses to quit.

Fulbright is a fighter. Fulbright is a believer.

‘I will get back’

Fulbright was kind and engaging to a recent visitor to his hospital room, inviting him to sit and stay awhile.

But he declined an offer to help him look up a number on his cell phone.

He has become handy using a pencil affixed to a brace on his right hand and arm. With it he can make and end calls, he can scroll on his laptop -- which is always nearby -- searching for his favorite old-school rhythm and blues on iTunes, and he can change channels with the TV remote control.

Fulbright is paralyzed from the neck down, though he can move his arms. His hands, however, don’t work.

“I always like to try doing it myself,” he said. The pencil, “was my idea. I’m real handy even though I can’t use my hands.”

Fulbright spent the days following his injury at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio.

Doctors’ worst fears were confirmed when it was found that Fulbright had crushed his C-5 vertebra, which lies just beneath the skull, on a tackle of Burnet tailback Patrick Miller.

The ball was jarred loose, and as Fulbright lay still, a teammate recovered.

“I got over there and when he jumped and caught the ball and he was coming down, I jumped into the air and hit him,” Fulbright said. “But I wasn’t thinking about my technique and went head first.”

Doctors performed surgery to stabilize Fulbright’s spine and termed his chances of being a quadriplegic at “greater than 99 percent.”

Fulbright said he sat two days at Brooke doing everything he could to move, to prove the doctors wrong.

“I started moving my arms just through sheer determination and faith,” said Fulbright, who added that he never was scared. “I was just glad that I was alive.”

Today, Fulbright -- when he is at home, where he lives with his mother and stepfather -- has home health nurses on duty 24 hours a day. A nurse arrives at 7 a.m. to relieve a colleague who worked the previous 12 hours.

Money is an issue, he said. He is the recipient of disability payments each month which cover his bills but that’s about it.

The specialized van he uses is in need of repairs that he can’t afford, he said.

He acknowledged that between the hospital stays and financial challenges he has become at times lost in the terrible loneliness of despair.

But breaking down in sobs is only his way of cleansing his soul, not an indicator of his state of mind.

“I have my moments when I sit up and cry,” Fulbright said. “That’s just to get it out. Then it’s back to normal.”

Ultimately, Fulbright is a believer in the hope of Christmas.

He is still determined to prove the doctors wrong.

They told him he wouldn’t move his arms, but he did.

“I plan on,” he said before pausing. “It’s not a plan. I will get back on my feet one day. It’s going to take awhile, but I’m going to get back up.

“I have too much faith and pride to let this hold me down.”

‘I’ll never quit’

“I don’t like to use the word handicapped or paralyzed,” Fulbright said. “I say, ‘I’m temporarily disconnected at the legs.’”

If Fulbright is ever to get back on his feet or live a full life in his current condition, he needs to get back into physical therapy, which has been set back because of the continual battle with infections.

The work, he said, would help him reclaim lost muscle tone and regain his self-esteem.

That will also help him reclaim the full scope of his faith. He’ll be able to get back to worship with his brothers and sisters at Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church.

On this Christmas, Fulbright brings his own message: the unconditional love of doing for others.

He said he started young, helping his then-single mother raise his two younger brothers and other family.

It was work of devotion, but something he’s also proud of. His family, he said, still comes to him to talk about things and to seek out advice.

He also hopes one day to be able to be a driving force in nonprofit organizations that help people in need get in wheelchairs and specialized vans.

He’s proud, too, of his accomplishments as a football player at Everman, joking that “everything has gone downhill” with the football team “since the Class of ‘03 graduated.”

He wouldn’t change a thing, he said. After all, it was God who picked him.

“I’ll never quit,” he said. “The Man upstairs has the last say-so on everything.”