Senior wrestler Dan Bishop went to the Mid-American Conference Championships looking to win a MAC title to close out his four-year career as a Bull. Bishop's goal seemed within reach, but in an instant, his dream of a championship was shattered.
Bishop endured a life-threatening spinal cord injury on March 6 while competing in the semifinals of the MAC Championships at Central Michigan University's Rose Center in Mt. Pleasant, Mich. Following the injury, Bishop was taken to St. Mary's Hospital in Saginaw and underwent emergency surgery that night to reduce inflammation caused by a fracture between his C5 and C6 vertebrae.
Prior to surgery, Bishop lost feeling in all extremities. Doctors successfully fused his two vertebrae back together and also put in a metal plate with permanent screws to support his spine. Bishop awoke after surgery with feeling returned to his limbs.
For Bishop, last week had it share of highs and lows.
He battled pneumonia and a fever, and beat both. He was taken off a ventilator and ended the week positively with greater limb functionality.
Associate Athletic Director/Communications Paul Vecchio gave an update on Bishop's condition.
"It was a very encouraging weekend," Vecchio said. "Bishop was able to move toes on his right foot, which was more of a concern since he had already been moving his left leg [for a whole] day prior. That was a real breakthrough."
The Bishop family wants to keep Dan close to their hometown of Whitehall, N.Y. during the full-scale rehabilitation process. Vecchio expects Bishop to move from St. Mary's to Sunnyview Rehabilitation Hospital in Schenectady on Thursday.
According to Vecchio, Sunnyview is one of the best trauma and rehabilitation facilities in the state. It is located about an hour from Whitehall.
On Tuesday, Norm Bishop, Dan's father, said that Dan has regained some fine motor skills in his hands. He was able to send a text message for the first time since the injury. More importantly, Bishop stood on his own for 30 seconds.
"The nurses were shocked," said Norm Bishop.
Head coach Jim Beichner said that Bishop's conditioning as a Division I athlete will assist him in the rehabilitation process.
"He'll recover faster than just about anybody else because he's in such good shape," Beichner said. "He's in the best physical condition of his life. He was prepared to get to the National Championships and compete out there, so his body and his mind are probably in as good a shape as they possibly could be. Whatever is in store for him, I know that he's physically and mentally ready to fight it, and heal."
Bishop entered Saturday's competition as a second seed in the 125-pound weight class and had a first round bye. In his only match of the day, Bishop squared off against Ohio freshman Gabe Ramos, who Bishop defeated earlier in the year on Jan. 30 in a 17-5 decision.
Bishop led 4-0 in Saturday's contest before Ramos performed an illegal throw, which injured Bishop and put him out of competition. Because of the Ramos' illegal maneuver, Bishop was awarded the win. Officials deemed the illegal move by Ramos unintentional.
"It's a situation that happens a lot in a wrestling match, where [Ramos] tried to lift Bishop, and return him to the mat," Vecchio said. "It's a common move in wrestling. Unfortunately, Bishop got caught in a position where his head was in a bad spot. [Ramos] got himself into a spot where I think he was maybe not completely sure of where Bishop's head position was, which is [Ramos'] responsibility. But I can tell you that both the young man and his family have contacted the Bishop family."
Ohio head coach Joel Greenlee offered a statement in regards to Bishop's injury.
"On behalf of our wrestling program and Ohio Athletics, I would like to extend our heartfelt sympathies to Dan Bishop, his family, and the Buffalo wrestling program," Greenlee said. "We wish him a speedy recovery and he will remain in our thoughts going forward."
The win in the semifinals moved Bishop on to the championship match in the 125-pound bracket. However, Bishop could not compete due to injury, and a medical forfeit was issued on his behalf. Bishop finished second in his weight class and earned All-MAC Honorable Mention.
Beichner thought Bishop's initial reaction to the injury showed great character."It says a lot when you're on a stretcher and you're being hauled off in an ambulance and you want to get up and wrestle, and score points for your team," Beichner said. "He wanted to get up and get back out there, and continue to wrestle. He was more concerned with his team, and that's pretty rare nowadays. I'm glad he feels that way, and I'm glad that this team meant so much to him that that was the thing that was on his mind."
The UB Wrestling Program set up a fund to aid in Bishop's recovery and help offset medical costs anticipated by the Bishop family. More information about making a donation can be found on the wrestling page at buffalobulls.com.
Additional reporting by Stephen Marth, Editor-In-Chief