MANILA, MAY 17, 2006 (STAR) By Joaquin Henson - Purefoods forward Eugene Tejada was conscious, stable and in high spirits yesterday but the prognosis is an operation is imminent to fuse his dislocated spine once the swelling in the back subsides.

Tejada, 25, fell during a rebounding play in a Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) game against Red Bull at the Ynares Center in Antipolo last Sunday. He heard a crack in his back as he crashed to the floor. Tejadaís body recoiled when Red Bull center Mick Pennisi lost his balance and collapsed on him.

Tejada lay motionless on the court for about 40 minutes then was rushed to the Makati Medical Center in a Lifeline Arrows ambulance.

Rene Pardo, Purefoodsí representative to the PBA Board of Governors, said surgery is necessary to repair the damage in Tejadaís spinal cord.

"He still canít move his legs so there is paralysis from the waist down," said Pardo. "But his upper body is fine so thatís a good sign. He can move his arms and hands. There is a lot of swelling in the spine and doctors will not be able to operate until the swelling goes down."

Tejadaís father Danny, a former San Beda College cager, was due to arrive with his sister from the US today. His mother Angeles, a nurse, is also planing in after a few days with his brother. The family will be consulted by the battery of doctors now attending to Tejada on the surgical procedure.

Tejadaís girlfriend Jeni Hernandez, a TV actress, said doctors estimated it will take about a week before the swelling subsides and surgery can be performed. The MRI taken of Tejadaís back the other day showed excessive swelling caused by the anterior dislocation of the cervical vertebrae. If the swelling subsides, doctors may operate as early as Thursday.

Aside from a neck brace, Tejada was fitted with a traction "crown" strapped to his skull.

Tejada is on a liquid diet and takes only soup and jello. He said when he is discharged, heíll gorge on fried chicken, mashed potatoes and corn.

"We are concerned about his lack of movement in the lower extremities," said Pardo. "Our priority is to make sure he is able to walk again. We are optimistic that his condition will normalize."

Purefoods team manager Alvin Patrimonio said the spinal cord damage has resulted in the absence of movement and sensation in areas of the body below the level of the injury.

"The goals of the treatment are to stabilize the cervical spine, prevent secondary injury, reduce the fracture as soon as possible and protect the spinal cord," said Patrimonio. "Realignment of the dislocated spine, called a close reduction, was performed by specialists at the hospital. Traction was applied which, according to Eugene, gave improved sensory function."

Patrimonio said stabilization of the affected bones may be done when all the other tests are completed and the swelling is gone.

A titanium plate will likely be implanted for a spinal fusion to realign the fifth cervical vertebra, which went over the sixth. A physical rehabilitation specialist said damage to the fifth cervical vertebra usually causes lack of motion in the upper body, too, and called it "a positive sign" that Tejada has complete control of his upper body.

Well-wishers continued to pour into Tejadaís hospital room yesterday. Pennisi came with Red Bull players Enrico Villanueva, Mike Hrabak and Topex Robinson. He expressed concern and apologized to Tejada for falling on him. There was no need for the apology, said Tejada, because it was an accident.

"No hard feelings, bro," Tejada told Pennisi who said he wanted to rush to the hospital after the game. "Itís not your fault. Itís just a game."

Pardo and Patrimonio visited with the entire Purefoods team to cheer up Tejada after practice yesterday. Alex Compton, Danny Seigle and Hector Calma also visited. The day before, Kris Aquino came with a basket of fruits and flowers.

"Eugene is encouraged by the show of support from everyone," said Pardo. "Nakipagtawanan nga siya with Rob Johnson when he visited."

Pardo said several players visited Tejada in the hospital the night of the accident. Among the well-wishers were Noy Castillo, Kerby Raymundo, Asi Taulava, Jimmy Alapag, Jeffrey Cariaso, Kalani Ferreria, E. J. Feihl and Nic Belasco.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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