Walter Camp All-Americans Past, Present Visit Gaylord Hospital

Calvin Hayden has completed several weeks of rehab at Gaylord Hospital following a very serious back injury that could have paralyzed him.

He couldn’t be happier Friday that he was scheduled to go home Saturday. Or could he?

Seated in a wheelchair but capable of walking on his own, the 72-year-old Hayden had a smile that lit up the room, the facility’s inpatient gym.

It got even wider while sharing a few words with former Steelers and Tampa Bay safety Will Allen, a 2003 Walter Camp All-American out of Ohio State.

Jillian Graham was hanging out with her boyfriend at a party in August, and she fell off a 10-story building in New Haven. With the exception of a knee, she has no control over her lower body. She’s been at Gaylord, a long-term acute care hospital in Wallingford that specializes in medical management and rehabilitation for patients who have experienced an acute illness or traumatic accident, for six months. She is in a wheelchair. She’s also quite a spirit. And she loves football.

She was talking college, pro, even youth level where her father coached, with West Virginia wide receiver David Sills V.

“I loved him … he’s a cutie pie,” she said. “I guess I shouldn’t be saying that. I have a boyfriend.”

Sills V and Auburn offensive lineman Braden Smith, who are newly minted Walter Camp All Americans, joined alumni Allen, Ki-Jana Carter, Blair Thomas and Paul Palmer on a visit to Gaylord as part of the 51st Walter Camp Weekend, highlighted by Saturday night’s 50th National Awards dinner at Yale’s Lanman Center.

Hayden and Graham were among dozens of adults posing for pictures, receiving autographed footballs and chatting about football and more.

Gaylord, which sits on 400 acres, can treat individuals who need care and rehab for illness or injury related to the brain and nervous system, spine, bones, joints and lungs as well as other conditions. It offers inpatient and outpatient rehab.

Furthermore, it is a wonderfully uplifting facility, particularly with the Walter Camp All-Americans in the building Friday.

“A lot of times what I’ve noticed or seen doing community work, especially with the elderly and people who have extreme disabilities, not that everyone here does, but their families won’t come and see them or their friends won’t come and visit,” Allen said. “Sometimes it gets lonely. Sometimes you need encouragement. It was good to come here for the day and say hello, be normal. A lot of the folks here are sports fans or have an affinity for sports and they were really excited to talk, so just to encourage them, let them know someone is here to support them, I think is good.”

Hayden and Allen carried on for a while. He told the player the circumstances of his arrival Dec.10.

“Three to four weeks prior [to surgery on Nov. 30] my back starting hurting and got progressively worse, so did walking,” Hayden said. “My doctor took an MRI and sent me to a specialist, who sent me to Griffin Hospital right after reading the MRI. She said I’m going to admit you in emergency and have to operate on you the next day. She said if I don’t, Mr. Hayden, you’re going to be paralyzed in your legs. So the next day she operated and she did a great job. She saved my legs and these people have been terrific. I’m going home tomorrow but today, wow, what an experience.”

It is for the players, too.

“We visit hospitals in West Virginia,” Stills V said. “This is different because it’s mostly children we go see there. I like that very much but this is cool, too, talking to people. It all humbles you, really.”

Added Smith: “To see some of the folks down here, really talk to them, you really get perspective on that, especially football and what it’s all given me. It’s really important and it is humbling, no question. It shows you how blessed you are and don’t take what’s been given to you for granted.”

Carter had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee when he was 13 followed by two more surgeries on his left knee when he was a senior in high school. He dislocated a thumb that required surgery while he was at Penn State, and he tore his ACL again (left knee) his rookie year with the Bengals, right after being named the Rose Bowl MVP in 1995. Right knee surgery, a dislocated wrist and other injuries followed. He knows the rehab game and had a real appreciation for the people he was talking to Friday.

“Because I know,” he said. “I know what they’re going through, but this place is impressive, a good place. When you have injuries or surgery or something like that, it can be a real test of your character. Are you going to sulk or are you going to fight through it? There are some real fighters in here. I’ve heard some great stories. … They’re inspiring to us, too.”

Graham said she didn’t have a chance to talk to all the players who attended, but she felt the buzz they generated, and she watched as the players greeted many of the patients and shared their time.

“It was great having them all here,” Graham said. “I love football. Who doesn’t love football?”

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