ATLANTA — Injured Georgia baseball player Johnathan Taylor is using his arms and regaining strength after breaking his neck in an outfield collision, though doctors were unsure Thursday whether he'll be able to regain use of his legs.
"He's breathing completely on his own and making progress every day," said Dr. Donald Peck Leslie, medical director of the Shepherd Center.
Taylor was injured when he collided with center fielder Zach Cone in the third inning of a home game against Florida State on March 6. The junior left fielder was transferred from St. Mary's Hospital in Athens to the Shepherd Center five days later. He's expected to stay at the rehabilitation hospital for about another month before beginning outpatient treatment.
Leslie was noncommittal when asked if Taylor would be able to regain use of his legs.
"That's not known at this time," Leslie said. "Walking is the big goal of everyone who comes to Shepherd, obviously. But at this time we can't say that."
The Johnathan Taylor Fund has been established to help with his medical expenses and donations will be collected instead of admission at the annual spring football game Saturday in Athens.
Taylor is the second Georgia baseball player to be seriously injured in the past few years. Freshman Chase Veazey was paralyzed from the waist down in a scooter accident on campus in October 2009 before he ever had a chance to play for the Bulldogs.
"Unfortunately, we have experience going through this type of situation," said coach David Perno, who attended the medical briefing that updated Taylor's condition. "It doesn't get any easier. ... It's a long road, but we're all in it together."
Veazey is in school at Georgia and helps the team as a student assistant. He has visited Taylor, as have Perno and Georgia's players.
Cone and two other Bulldogs have worn Taylor's No. 2 during games and all have a JT 2 decal on their batting helmets. There is also a JT 2 sign on the outfield fence at Foley Field and the team keeps a framed action photo of Taylor in the dugout during its games.
"He's our heart and soul," Perno said of Taylor, a three-year regular who batted .335 last season and led the team with 31 walks. "You wanted to be around him. You couldn't get enough of him. ... He's as wonderful a young man has I've coached or ever will coach."
The Bulldogs lost the game in which Taylor was hurt to drop to 3-8, but they are 15-8 since going into a weekend home series with Florida.
"His spirits, as positive and upbeat as they have been, are a tremendous inspiration to our players," Perno said.
Dr. Kimberly Walpert of Georgia Neurological Surgery treated Taylor at St. Mary's Hospital. She and Leslie both credited the quick work of the Georgia training staff in keeping Taylor's situation from being worse.
Besides no longer needing a respirator, Taylor has regained enough arm strength to use a regular wheelchair rather than a motorized one to attend physical therapy sessions.
"His complications have been few and he is in and out of bed independently every day," Leslie said. "... His prognosis is very good."