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Strong will helps athlete get back on his feet

Lakia Clendening remembers the short drive from her mother's house last October, when a routine trip went horribly wrong. Her car hydroplaned and struck a utility pole, knocking her unconscious.

Her 14-year-old son, Devin Goodwin, awoke next to her in the passenger seat, the side of the car a mass of wrecked metal.

"I came to, and my first reaction was to look at him," Clendening said. "Where's my son at? That's my only child, so that's all I have. My first reaction was to get my son out."

That wouldn't be possible, though, because Devin's legs were trapped under the crushed dashboard. They would later learn he had fractures of the pelvis, femur and lumbar spine and a collapsed lung.

After emergency surgery at Women & Children's Hospital that included the insertion of rods into both of his hips, Devin was told it would take six to nine months before he could even think of playing sports again. But thanks to the strong will he had developed as an elite athlete -- and the work of pediatric orthopedic surgeon Dr. Michael Ferrick and his staff -- the West Seneca West freshman is on his feet again.

"He has a high tolerance for pain," Clendening said. "I never knew how strong he was until this happened."

Strength wasn't on Clendening's mind moments after the Oct. 27 crash. With shards of glass embedded in her hand and elbow, extreme soreness gripped her body. Emergency responders took her to Women & Children's, where she waited two hours for her son to be cut out of the car and rushed to the hospital.

"I couldn't think," she said. "That's the only thing I could talk about."

Devin remembers the ice-cold operating table and nothing else. But he was in good hands, Clendening said, with Ferrick as the surgeon.

"He said, 'I am going to treat your son like my son, and I guarantee he's not going to come out with a tube in his mouth,'" Clendening said.

When Clendening finally was able to peer into the intensive care unit, there was no tube.

Devin spent two weeks in the hospital, where the nursing staff made sure Clendening fully understood Devin's treatments and spent extra time with him exercising. One nurse, after noticing a nervous Clendening on the first floor, bought her lunch.

"It was wonderful," Clendening said as tears welled in her eyes. "It was a bunch of great people."

Meanwhile, Devin set his heart on returning to his athletic form.

Before the accident, he regularly scored the most points on his basketball team and nabbed a starting position in football as a West Seneca West freshman, playing more than some sophomores as a speedy running back and wide receiver. He set eight records in track, beating high school students as a middle-schooler.

"Once we gave him the clearance, he really took off much more rapidly than other people do," said Ferrick, who credited the young athlete's strong tissue, bone density and general fitness for his speedy recovery.

Devin would sneak into the kitchen to raid the refrigerator. One day, his mother caught him standing unaided in his room. Just before New Year's Day, he was walking again; the walker he was assigned sits unused in his room.

"He's the type of kid that doesn't like to sit still," Clendening said.

School nurses called his doctor and mother when -- unbeknown to Clendening -- Devin signed himself up for spring lacrosse.

"I knew I could do it," he said. "I couldn't go so long without a sport."

That wouldn't surprise Ferrick, who said Devin also possessed a mental toughness developed through athletics.

"He's laying there with both [hips] broken and banged up on his head and face, and he was as tough as nails," Ferrick said. "A lot of people would be writhing and screaming in pain ... and he's giving the thumbs up."

Devin is now jogging and participates in track. His goal is to regain his presurgery form in time for football in the fall.

Asked whether his quick recovery pace will allow him to regain his lightning-quick sprint, Devin answers with a mix of humility and adventure.

"That's going to take some time," he said. "[But] my goal is [to run] the next day."

e-mail: cspecht@buffnews.com

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