4-27-04, 10:55 p.m. **Updated:
BY GEOFF HOBSON
The Bengals received good news on cornerback Dennis Weathersby's condition Tuesday when University Hospital reported his head injury has been upgraded from serious to fair.
The progress is significant enough that he can begin rehabilitation, and while optimism is mixed with the caution of a long-term recovery, Bengals wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh is relieved to be talking to his friend again.
"He's in conversations, he's up, he can kind of recall what happened, but it's great just to hear him talking," Houshmandzadeh said Wednesday. "When you first walk in, he gives you a funny look and you're like, 'Do you know who I am?' But then once you get to talking to him, it's just the same."
Houshmandzadeh said Weathersby really had the nurses going before and during last weekend's NFL Draft. He told them that he thought the Bengals would draft his old college teammate at Oregon State, running back Steve Jackson, and then when the draft got going and Jackson was available, everybody in the room thought the Bengals were going to add their sixth player from Oregon State.
When the Bengals selected Michigan running back Chris Perry, Houshmandzadeh said Weathersby had some explaining to do with some good-natured kidding.
"It's just great to hear his voice. Now he has to rehab," Houshmandzadeh said. "Get his balance back. Get him working. He'll do it,"
It's the first time that Weathersby's head injury has been upgraded since he was found unconscious after an April 12 car accident in Springdale. But the length and complexity of his rehab could take a few months to determine.
The news of his progress has sent a bolt of relief and hope through the locker room and the Bengals' offices. Head coach Marvin Lewis, whose staff has kept a constant vigil, released an upbeat statement Tuesday.
"We are excited about the progress of Dennis' recovery," Lewis said. "He and his family are very appreciative of all the good wishes and prayers they have received.
Dr. Lori Shutter, who directs the unit, can't talk about Weathersby's case. But Shutter, who specializes in critical care and traumatic brain injuries, did say that it is always encouraging when patients can begin rehab because it means they are awake and are able to have some type of interaction.
She said that 90 to 100 percent of patients who suffer serious head injuries encounter some form of residual deficiency. But it can take two to three months to find out what they are, and if it is cognitive or physical.
"As people wake up, they become more responsive and interactive," Shutter said. "It's difficult to predict the long term. But if he is beginning rehab, there has had to be some improvement."
Coaches and teammates have been at his side and Lewis has been with him literally from the beginning. He accompanied Weathersby in the helicopter when he was airlifted from Fairfield Mercy to University in the hours after the accident and has been visibly moved by the care.
"The Bengals organization would like to thank University Hospital and the Neuroscience Intensive Care Unit for their warmth and professionalism in caring for Dennis," Lewis said in the statement.