Shawn Forristall didn’t think much of it when he saw his son, University of Alabama tight end Miller, enter the football team’s injury tent in the first quarter of the Arkansas game. After all, Miller Forristall did play five games last season with a broken ankle and went through spring with a broken foot, according to Shawn. With a pain tolerance that high, even a serious injury wouldn’t be too bad for him.
This was different.
“You think they’re going to hurt their knee, hurt their elbow, break a bone,” Shawn Forristall said.
“You don’t think they’re going to break their throat.”
The injury that will keep Forristall out for the rest of the regular season and the SEC Championship Game, should Alabama get there, was effectively a dislodging of the larynx. The larynx is colloquially known as the voice box, since it holds the vocal cords — which is how UA coach Nick Saban described the injury — but is described by Encyclopaedia Britannica as a pathway for air to reach the windpipe and thus the lungs.
“Because this is an area where you’re talking about affecting your breathing and affecting your voice, that’s pretty important to make sure we take care of the right way,” Saban said.
It wasn’t until after the game that the Forristalls and UA learned the severity of the injury.
“The larynx consists of cartilage and the cartilage is attached on both sides by different points. I think there’s four — I’m not a doctor — but I think he broke three of the four points on one side, so basically the whole side of his throat was moving,” Shawn Forristall told The Tuscaloosa News. “Most of the time when they have this kind of injury, they end up with an emergency tracheotomy on the field because they can’t breathe, but he didn’t have distressed breathing so he played the whole game with it.
“He hurt it early in the first quarter. He knew he got hit in the throat, he felt weird, he felt like his Adam’s apple was on the side of his neck. But, you know, it’s one of those things: it’s not an injury they’ve seen, so they checked him and he said, ‘I can go back in.’ So he played with it the whole game. It’s a blessing he didn’t get hit there again because he probably would’ve been getting an emergency tracheotomy on the field.
“You usually see it more in car wrecks or ice hockey, because you take off a sharp puck to the neck, or in a car wreck your neck hits off the steering wheel or the dashboard. It’s not a common injury, by any means, but it’s very rare for football. The team doctor said in 30 years he’s never seen it on a football field.”
No one had reason to believe the injury was as serious as it was. Shawn Forristall was going about his postgame routine as normal, planning on meeting Miller outside the locker room as he always does after games, when Miller texted him telling him he was getting a CT scan on his neck. Fifteen to 20 minutes later, Shawn Forristall got an update from a doctor.
Miller Forristall had surgery on Oct. 29, the Tuesday after the Arkansas game, and was given a six-week timetable of returning to contact. That puts him becoming available in between the SEC Championship Game and a bowl game, with plenty of time to be involved in practices before making the trip.
“They had to go back in and reattach it because, again, it was dislodged,” Shawn Forristall said. “Basically, the larynx, which is all this cartilage in your neck where you breath out of and your voice box is and all that good stuff, if you get hit hard enough there it can kill him. That’s kind of what happened to him. It dislodged on the side and luckily it didn’t affect his breathing at that moment, but they have to reattach it, especially if he wants to play football. So they had to reattach it and he’s got a couple of small plates in there — a couple of tiny, small plates and little screws — to reattach the cartilage. So now it’s got to heal.
“It’s a very unfortunate situation, but it could’ve been a lot, a lot worse. He’s very blessed that he didn’t have somebody cut open his neck on the field because he’s gasping for air.”
All Miller Forristall has to deal with now is a four-inch scar on his neck and the six-week waiting period, unfortunately for him, coming at the pivotal stretch of UA’s regular season.
“He definitely should be ready for the playoffs if we get there,” Shawn Forristall said.
Reach Brett Hudson at 205-722-0196 or firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter, @Brett_Hudson