Danny O’Brien got a call from a team manager around 9 p.m. on Oct. 21. Pete DeSouza, a redshirt freshman offensive tackle and one of O’Brien’s closest friends on the team, had been in an accident.
Pete DeSouza expects to be able to participate in spring practice in April. Photo by Christopher Blunck.
DeSouza’s motor scooter collided with a car at the intersection of Campus Dr. and Union Dr. in front of Cole Field House, and O’Brien and offensive guard Pete White made the short walk from the team house to the scene of the accident. O’Brien initially thought DeSouza wasn’t seriously hurt; he had a cut above his eye, was conscious and alert and could move his arms.
But O’Brien quickly realized the severity of the accident when he peeked under the cover that blanketed DeSouza’s legs.
“I got a glimpse of his left leg which was apparently the worst one. It was like a slinky,” he said. “It was one of those things that didn’t feel real.”
As O’Brien described that night Tuesday afternoon, DeSouza sat at a table a few feet away in the team house cafeteria, meeting with the media for the first time since the accident. A month removed from a nearly 12-hour surgery to insert titanium rods into both legs and less than two weeks after leaving a rehabilitation center, DeSouza is back on campus, back in classes and able to move about with the aid of two crutches.
It’s remarkable progress for the 6-foot-7, now 288-pound DeSouza—he said he’s lost 22 pounds since the accident. Doctors told him it would be three months before he could put weight on his heavily damaged left leg; he’s already been able to do so. “It’s not that bad,” he said.
He’s hoping he can start wearing a shoe instead of a boot on his right foot when he’s evaluated again in a couple weeks. He’s hoping to finish two classes—CRIM100 and BSCI126—by completing work online and eventually meeting face-to-face with teacher’s assistants.
And he’s hoping to be back on the football field in April.
“I expect myself to be back for spring ball,” he said. “Maybe not fully practicing but taking part in the drills and stuff like that.”
But as much as DeSouza has improved in the last month, the night of the accident still haunts him. The physical progress can be seen and felt everyday, quantified by a number of measures. His mental recovery will take time.
“I think about it a lot,” he said. “Early on I had a couple nightmares, stuff like that. At times it gets emotional, but I have guys around me and people around me that are good people I can talk to about.”
He’s still weary about passing by the intersection on campus where he was hit.
“Sometimes you got to go that way and usually I just keep my head down,” he said. “I don’t really look at where it was. The first day I did and it really got to me, but ever since then I really don’t look at it. We don’t really go that way. I actually have them go a different way to take me home, because I don’t really want to go there again.”
He remembers most of the details of the accident. Because the backpack he was wearing cushioned his head from hitting the pavement he avoided more serious injury and remained lucid throughout.
He remembers the driver of the car who hit him telling him to remain calm. He remembers most of his body feeling fine, his hips, his back, his knees.
“I did look at my feet one time and then I sat back down and I kind of knew I was done for the season,” he said.
DeSouza, who had played for the first time a few weeks earlier and assumed a starting spot at right tackle the last three games before the accident, knew then his recovery would be long and arduous.
He spent several days in the intensive care unit following his surgery, mostly in a delirious state because of the pain medication. When he moved out of the ICU he was able to host regular visitors. Coach Ralph Friedgen visited on Sunday mornings, teammates swung by when they could, which was often.
“Even when he was in the hospital bed a couple days after he was still joking around with us. Even though he was doped up, barely in it, he was still goofing around, telling jokes,” O’Brien said.
DeSouza eventually moved to National Rehabilitation Center in the District where he regained some mobility and strengthened his upper body to be able to use crutches. DeSouza had no desire to be confined to a wheelchair or to use a walker.
He was discharged on Nov. 12, just in time to surprise his teammates before they left for Virginia.
“Kids got real emotional and real excited to see him back here,” Friedgen said.
Since his return to campus, DeSouza has settled into a daily routine that centers around his continued rehabilitation and football team meetings, all of which he attends. Paratransit, the school’s on-demand transportation service for those with disabilities, picks him up in the morning. He grabs a ride with a trainer at night.
“It’s just great being back in the dorm with your friends and hanging out with teammates and stuff,” he said.
DeSouza has talked with others who have had titanium rods inserted in their legs, and they’ve told him they were stronger and quicker when they returned to playing. Doctors, meanwhile, have told him there will be no limitations once he’s healed and cleared to play again.
It’s not a prognosis he takes for granted.
“A lot of people think that I could have passed away, so obviously it’s great that I’m able to play football again, because not a lot of people would have that opportunity,” he said. “So I have to take advantage of that and I also have to give back to people because God let me come back and play.”