Former Dallas Cowboys Running Back Ron Springs' Tale of Triumph Takes a Sad Detour Through Stagnation and Litigation

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In an exclusive interview with the Dallas Observer in mid-January in attorney Les Weisbrod's North Dallas office, Adriane talks of anger, support and, yes, unyielding faith. After working her job as an investigator for the Department of Health and Human Services and fulfilling her responsibilities with the Walls/Springs' Gift for Life Foundation, she visits her husband at night between 5-7 and most weekends. Springs also receives pop-ins from Shawn, a cornerback with the New England Patriots, and daughters Ayra and Ashley. But it's Adriane who holds his hand, reads him Bible scriptures and keeps him packed and ready for the miracle, a task that includes brushing his teeth and trying not to giggle when she accidentally pulls a nose hair, causing him to flinch.

"I know he's in there," Adriane says. "I'm hoping and praying there's a light at the end of the tunnel, because my husband was supposed to be OK. This wasn't supposed to happen. He's showing more brain activity, and I think this is unchartered territory. I have faith that I'll get my Ron back."

Oh yeah, and about the cancer. Not Ron's, mind you. Adriane's.

As if she didn't have enough on her plate dealing with her husband's plight: Just three months after Ron's catastrophic event, Adriane was diagnosed with breast cancer. After chemo treatments, radiation and two surgeries, including a left breast mastectomy, she still awaits another reconstruction procedure.

"I lost my breast, hair and strength during that time, but not my spirit," Adriane says. "You see, I know that God healed me, and he will heal Ron as well. No matter what the doctors may say."

Of course, there is always hope.

Recently a man in Belgium was found to be "awake and conscious"—merely unable to communicate—though misdiagnosed as in a coma for 23 years. And last week the New England Journal of Medicine released results of a study in which doctors discovered that almost 10 percent (five in 54) of patients in a vegetative state were able to respond to yes-or-no questions with the exact brain activity of an alert, conscious person.

On most days, however, the optimism is shrouded in frustration. Visitors such as former Cowboys teammates Tony Dorsett, Roger Staubach, Robert Newhouse, Drew Pearson and Ed "Too Tall" Jones, Reverend Jesse Jackson and international evangelist Richard Madison smile, nod and say all the right things. But...

"I haven't visited him in two months, and I'm ashamed of that," Walls admits. "I wish I was less selfish and it makes me feel really guilty, but nobody likes hospitals in the first place and then to see Ron like he is...it's just depressing. I hate going up there."

Though neither Adriane nor Ron's family has ever considered pulling the plug, Springs' minuscule quality of life even dents the spirits of men who crafted legends through improbable comebacks.

"I know there are cases where people miraculously just snap out of it," says Staubach, struggling to find the words. "But...I can't speak for Ron. Honestly, I wouldn't want that type of existence. I wouldn't want to be kept in a coma. I was sitting there holding his hand one day, kidding him about the time against the Redskins when we had a play designed for him to throw me a pass, but he panicked instead and threw it in the end zone toward Tony Hill. His eyes blinked. I'm not sure what that means, if anything."

Weisbrod maintains that Springs' doctors believe a full recovery is unlikely—his life expectancy is 10-15 years—and find little hope from recent, subtle increases in EEG brain activity. But those close to him refuse to accept the prognosis.

"I truly believe it will happen. Ron's going to get out of that hospital," Walls says. "I just get frustrated because it's not on any of our timetables. I think all of us close to him go through impatience, guilt and a lot of anger too. None of this had to happen."

While the Walls-Springs kidney transplant has deteriorated from this generation's Brian's Song into a medical mystery and a sad saga, the legal teams are preparing for a trial that will hinge on flaws vs. fate.

In her court petition, Adriane alleges, among other things, that Abraham was negligent in failing to "perform a proper pre-operative evaluation" of Ron and in "failing to select the appropriate method of anesthesia."

"Had Dr. Abraham performed a proper preoperative evaluation of Mr. Springs," wrote Dr. Scott Groudine, professor of anesthesiology at Albany Medical Center and plaintiff expert witness, in a report filed with the court, "she would have learned that his airway would likely be difficult to secure. This knowledge should have led her to either (1) ensure that she would have additional equipment and support in place to secure his airway; or (2) choose an alternative to general anesthesia such as...regional anesthesia under which Mr. Springs could continue to breathe on his own."

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Richie Whitt
Contact: Richie Whitt