ATLANTA - Devon Gales sees his time at Shepherd Center as his second chance.
"My goal is to get back on my feet and do what I used to do,” Gales says.
The 22-year old Southern University junior spends 6 hours a day -- 5 days a week -- in Shepherd Center's Spinal Cord Injury Day Program. His physical therapist Daniel Dale says working with Gales means no breaks and no complaints.
"He's got that athlete mentality,” Dale says. “So every time he comes to the gym, he makes my brain work hard, because he's always ready for that next rep, that next set."
It's been almost four months now since Gales, a wide receiver, went down during a September 27, 2015 game in Athens against the Georgia Bulldogs and didn't get back up. Hit while trying to block a kickoff return, he suffered a cervical spinal cord injury that left him paralyzed. Transferred to Shepherd Center a few days later, Gales says he couldn’t move anything from his neck down.
“A couple of months after, I started to get more feeling in my chest and my arms and stuff like that,” he says.
So, instead of focusing on everything he’s lost, Gales says, "I thank the Lord for everything he gave (me) back."
"It's great,” he says. “Just to know there is a second chance in life, of me walking again. Knowing that I can probably drive again."
Lately, Gales feels like he's regaining sensation in his legs.
"I'm starting to get a lot more feeling up and down,” he says. “In my toes, and my legs. I can maneuver a lot more than what I used to."
During his physical therapy session, a "wave" machine sends vibrations deep into his paralyzed muscles. Dale says they’re trying to stimulate the muscles deep in his legs.
"If you think about trying to move muscles and trying to wake them up,” Dale says. “We're trying to give him that sensation of what we're trying to do with him, to get him moving again."
The progress is slow for an athlete who used to play with total control of his body. But, each tiny step forward gives Gales more hope.
"Just this morning,” he says. “I was moving my leg inside and out, and it was moving wider than usual.”
"The biggest thing I see from him is improvement every day,” says Daniel Dale. “And that's what I want. I don't know what the end road is going to mean for him. With spinal cord injury there is a lot unknown. But I want to keep seeing him continue to improve."
Gales says his family, who have been with him constantly since his accident, and his friends give him the strength to keep going.
He now considers the Georgia Bulldog Nation his family, too. Fans have rallied around Gales and his family, raising money to help cover the costs of his rehabilitation and dropping by to visit him.
"They recognize me as a Georgia Bulldog now.” Gales says. “They took me as their family. Took me under their arm. I just want to thank everyone for their support, and for having me in their prayers. Without their prayers, I probably wouldn't be here."
Devon Gales hasn’t been home to Baton Rouge since his accident. But, as long as he is showing signs he’s making progress, he says, he will stay at Shepherd Center and keep working.
He says he feels grateful to God for this opportunity.
“(I know) He already wrote the story for me to be here,” Gales says. “So, I just have to stick to what I'm doing. Stay strong."