After 15 years as a MLB umpire, Steve Palermo faced beating the odds again, this time recovering from a mugger's bullet that nicked his spinal cord and came within a millimeter of severing an artery. He was left paralyzed below the waist. After the bullet struck Steve, he said, “I felt as if my legs were like a chocolate bar melting into hot pavement.”

Two days after the tragic shooting and the emergency surgery, the neurosurgeon told wife Debbie and brother Jimmy that Steve would never walk again.

Yet despite this paralyzing injury, Steve walked with the aid of crutches and full-length leg braces onto the field at Arlington Stadium three months later for a Texas Rangers game. He received a standing ovation. The scene was truly remarkable and uplifting.


Odds Are Defied

In part, he overcame the odds because he demonstrated immense fortitude and devotion through the torturing rehabilitation regimen. In part, he never quit because of overwhelming support from thousands he never met and from those close to him, especially Debbie, who suddenly was thrust into the role of caregiver. In part, he improved because of a friendship developed with two boys, also patients, who helped Steve's attitude and spirit especially toward the game of baseball, which was suddenly taken from him. And in part, he beat the odds because ... just because the human body is unpredictable.

A rhyme shared with Debbie by her grandmother when she was a child was embraced as the Palermos' personal measuring stick for the progress through rehab. “'Inch by inch life's a cinch. Yard by yard life is hard,' was our mantra,” she said. “And those kids, they were the best thing for Stevie.”

A rare and risky 10-hour surgery in late 1993 removed scar tissue around damaged nerves near the spine in hope that the nerves would further regenerate. Steve would endure rehab for nearly five years. Progress came slowly, millimeter by millimeter. According to medical experts, damaged nerves regenerate, if at all, at a rate of a millimeter a day.

Today, Steve uses only a single cane and wears a shortened brace. He still faces challenges with balance, mobility and pain. But the crutches and leg braces used to walk onto the field at Arlington Stadium were discarded years ago.

 

 

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