'Everything just stopped working': After escaping paralysis, Iowa recruit Michael Lois eyes return to football
There's a somberness in Michael Lois' voice when he talks about September 16: A pang of regret, and gratitude that things didn't turn out worse. Some deprecating humor, too.
Lois, a three-star junior defensive end from Elkhorn, Wisconsin, who recently committed to Iowa, was watching the Packers game two Sundays ago at a friend's house. After the game, they went out back to swim.
"Then," Lois said, "we decided it was a great idea to bring the trampoline over to the pool."
He doesn't know how it happened, but Lois lost control on his third or fourth leap into the pool. His feet were suddenly above his head, he said, and he missed the floaty he was using as a landing pad.
At 6-foot-4 and 260 pounds, Lois plunged head-first through the water.
"And then the back of my head just hit the bottom of the pool and everything just went boom," Lois said. "Everything just stopped working."
The impact broke three vertebrae in Lois' spine.
He couldn't feel his limbs. He struggled to breathe and lift his head above the water to cry for help.
"(My friend) got me to the edge of the pool and I’m like, 'I can’t move my left leg or my arms, dude,'" Lois said.
An ambulance — and Lois' parents — rushed over. Lois was first taken to Aurora Medical Center in Summit, Wisconsin, because it was closest. But, after taking an X-ray, doctors said Lois' injuries were too severe and he needed treatment at Children's Hospital of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.
There, doctors immediately fitted Lois with a halo to stabilize his neck. On Monday, they performed surgery and fused Lois' broken vertebrae to a metal rod. The ferocious defensive end's football career — at least at Elkhorn Area High — was over.
Lois described his injury to the Register on Wednesday, 10 days after it happened. He'd just wrapped up physical therapy — mainly hand and neck movements to build back his strength. He's set to continue physical therapy two times a week for eight weeks, and doctors will assess and adjust from there.
His fingers still tingle occasionally, but for the most part, Lois is remarkably healthy. He can walk. He's not in a great deal of pain. He's projected to make a full recovery.
"At no point in time was I ever scared or worried," Lois said. "From the time I got out of the pool to the time at the surgery table, I was always calm. It was a weird feeling.
"The doctors said after the surgery, 'You should be in a wheelchair.' I definitely knew God was there with me to help me and guide me through this. And he definitely did."
Lois said his near-paralysis has taught him to count his blessings.
"The second day I was home, I went out for lunch with my grandma and my mom. I saw this veteran at the front door and I thanked him for his service," he remembered. "Then, when we sat down, I saw the back of his jacket and it said, 'Every day is a bonus.' That really puts it into perspective."
What is Lois' football future?
Lois said Iowa offensive line coach Tim Polasek and linebackers coach Seth Wallace check in on him every day. He said Iowa's entire coaching staff has talked to his father, making sure Lois is OK.
"They offered all the help I can really get," he said. "Anything I need."
Lois said that he and Iowa's coaches have not discussed whether they would honor his scholarship if he does not come back and play football.
Elkhorn Area head coach Tom Lee said he hasn't discussed Lois' future with Iowa, either.
"That’s got to be something that I’m sure Michael and the coaches will be discussing," Lee said. "Michael has their full support. They have been great through this whole process. He said one of the best days of his life was going down there to Iowa and telling them he had accepted their offer as a scholarship. He was smiling from ear to ear. This is the place that he wants to be."
Whether he's able to play football down the road is one thing. Doctors don't think he should.
"They said I should think about taking up a new sport," Lois said.
Lois understands why they'd advise him against playing football. You always run the risk of getting hit in the head or the neck, especially as a defensive lineman.
Still, he's committed to trying to get back on the field after missing his senior season.
"I was just thinking in my head, 'No matter what they say, I’m going to play football,'" Lois said. "I worked so hard for it. Iowa believed in me and I want to make them happy and proud, and I’m going to do whatever I can to play — whether that means (having) a neck brace so my neck can’t move when I get hit. I’m going to do anything I can to get on that field.
"People might say some things aren’t possible, and yeah, that’s true. But look at my story and look at where I’m at now. I should be in a wheelchair getting fed with a spoon. So I think I can definitely go out there and play football again. I believe in myself if no one else does."
Lee said he won't advise Lois either way when it comes to returning to football — that it's a decision that Lois, his family and his medical team should make.
"When he sets his mind to something, he’s going to try to accomplish it," Lee said. "He is one of the most intense football players I’ve ever coached. And he’s the same way on the field as he is off the field. He just gets after it."
Matthew Bain covers college football and basketball recruiting for the Des Moines Register. He also helps out with Iowa and Iowa State football and basketball coverage for HawkCentral and Cyclone Insider. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @MatthewBain_.