Terrence Wheatley Is On The Mend

Last season, Terrence Wheatley scored the only CU touchdown in the Buffs' 31-7 loss to UT, when he intercepted and returned a Vince Young pass for a score. Since the 2004 season, Wheatley has gone through two wrist surgeries (his second and third), been told he'd never play football again, and persevered until he believes he'll put on the pads before December. Inside, Wheatley talks at length about his crippling wrist injury and where he's at now.

Terrence Wheatley recently got the good news he was hoping for. A doctor told him the third surgery on his wrist was successful, and there is a good chance he'll be able to play football again, possibly as soon as November.

He lacks mobility in his right wrist. He'll have to learn how to play the game without that mobility.

Wheatley, from Richardson, Texas, is in his third school year at Colorado. He would have competed for a starting spot this fall. If he plays again, he will have two years to play two after redshirting in 2005.

The following interview was conducted Wednesday.

Q: You were the only one to score a touchdown in last year's game against Texas. Is it frustrating to not be playing against them this year?
Terrence Wheatley:
Yeah, it's frustrating period. You get all this preseason hype, and you play well at the end of the (2004) season, and you work hard in the summer and then it gets toward the end of it and you can't play.

I'm just wishing I could be out there. This defense is playing well. You kind of say, ‘OK, what would it be like if I was playing.' It's frustrating, but you've got to live with it.

Q: I remember bits and pieces about your wrist injury, but tell me the history of it.
I first injured it spring ball of my freshman year (March 2004, prior to sophomore season). I dislocated the lunate bone, and had surgery the next day. I had the cast taken off of that and the pins removed, I think, maybe about a month before the season started last year.

I played all season. It hurt. I really couldn't move it. It really didn't work. But I went back at the end of the season, went to see a doctor down in Dallas and the first words out of his mouth were, ‘What's life like without football?'

He honestly didn't know how to fix it. Because my lunate bone ended up dying. My scaphoid was falling apart. It had no blood flow. It was just not a wrist.

So I had another surgery again in February. That was the one with the big (metal apparatus he wore on the outside of his wrist), which everybody loved, but I hated. (laughs). I had that for three months. That was a partial fusion and what we thought would be a solution to where it would fix it and I would be able to move my wrist.

Then I go back again and the bone had died anyway. It was actually worse.

I realized that after summer workouts, after lifting, gaining weight back, doing the run test. I was kind of mad by then.

On the third, most recent surgery, another procedure to fuse the bones
It's a life-changing surgery. Your wrist is never going to move again. They inserted a metal plate. I got 10 screws and bone from my hip again and put it in there. Took (one of the wrist bones) out completely and sawed off the bones that were dying. The area was actually a little bit bigger than we thought that was dying. So there was a total of four or five bones not even worth being called a bone.

We discovered this in the middle of May when I got back (from a post-semester trip back home to Texas). We had hoped the bone would fuse, but it didn't. It was just like a mush of bones in there. I had severe arthritis, like old ladies have when they don't want to move their hands. I didn't have any soft tissue around the bones. The bones were just grinding together.

That's why we had to do the fusion, so there's no bone-on-bone action anymore.

Q: So was that surgery a success?
It's a success so far. Everything has looked good. My surgeon (Dr. Randy Viola, from Vail) was actually at the A&M game, and I talked to him through the whole game. We looked at it at halftime and before the game. We talked about rehab possibilities.

I'm not too far away from getting back to full strength. I'm maybe a month or a month and a half out to where I can really start doing some stuff. But the bone's growing back. Everything is fusing together. It looks good, it feels great. It doesn't hurt anymore, which is nice. I don't have to wake up and take six Advil in the morning. So this one was a success. The doctor, he had never seen one this bad.

Q: Did you ever get any understanding of why it was deteriorating in the first place?
The initial injury was just bad. If you look at it on film, you just think, ‘Oh, he fell and it's not that bad.' But I jumped up pretty high and fell a good ways.

What had happened, the lunate bone sits on your carpal tunnel, and that's where all your ligaments and your nerves are and the blood vessels that supply the blood to your wrist. And when (the lunate bone) came out, it tore completely through it. So the first thing he did was try to repair, or reconnect everything and hope that it comes around. And it never did.

I had a procedure done where they stick a metal wire through your groin up through your heart and into your arm. They shoot dye to see what the blood flow is like. It was actually amazing because you could see my body trying to make new blood vessels and trying to send blood there, but it just couldn't get to the bone. There was too much scar tissue, too much damage.

Q: You've had a lot of surgery, and been in the doctor's office a lot. And that last procedure makes me kind of cringe. What's it been like to go through all that?
What I've been through in the past year, it's something that you would tell your grandkids, but you know they won't believe you. (laughs) A lot of people don't understand the severity of it. The injury is like a crippling injury. It's actually like you're crippled. And then to play football on it for a year (in 2004)…I talked to my doctor and he said, ‘Either you're crazy or really strong.' I was like, ‘Probably a little bit of both.'

Q: Is there a scheduled time when you will meet with the doctor and he'll say, ‘Yes, you can play,' or ‘No, you can't play'?
Right now, it's pretty much for sure that I will play again at some point. Right now it looks like I'll be back at practice, hopefully, in a month or a month and a half. It's the end of the season, but it's better than nothing. It'll be a chance for me to get back out there and see exactly what I can and can't do.

But the deciding point will be in the spring. Spring ball we'll know whether I can do this or I can't.

Q: Talking about football. You played well, especially at the end of the season last year. How long did it take you to begin to understand Coach Bray's different way of teaching and different way of playing the secondary.
I think, like everybody else in the secondary, it took us a while. It's a different concept, a different style of coaching. You've got to look at stuff more. With VJ, it was just play the guy and that's it. With Bray, it's definitely a team defense. You've got to make different calls, you've got to see what all the receivers are doing, not just your guy.

So it took us until about the A&M or Texas game to really get going and really understand and feel comfortable with it. I think it's evident this year. The guys are relaxed, they're seeing stuff better. They're out there making plays. It took a while, but we do have results.

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