Louisiana teen dies days after vertebrae injury in Spring football practice

Cameron Smith
Prep Rally

Tragedy struck rural Louisiana on Monday when Farmerville (La.) High football star Jaleel Gipson was taken off life support following a days-long struggle to recover from a devastating spinal cord injury. According to Louisiana CBS affiliate KNOE, Gipson was injured while making a “textbook” tackle during a drill in Spring football practice, and was taken to LSU Hospital in Shreveport but never recovered.

Gipson’s tragic death was essentially a fait accompli when his family decided to remove him from life support on Monday following three days spent in critical condition in intensive care.

A junior, Gipson was lined up as a running back on the play that left him injured. While carrying the ball, he was hit in a traditional shoulder-on-shoulder tackle. Instead of bouncing back up, Gipson couldn’t raise himself from the ground. An athletic trainer was on site and attended to Gipson immediately while the team awaited paramedics, who transported the back to a local hospital and then to LSU via helicopter.

Jaleel Gipson, number 33, died after a tragic injury suffered in a Spring tackle drill — Facebook
Jaleel Gipson, number 33, died after a tragic injury suffered in a Spring tackle drill — Facebook

While it initially appeared that Gipson might be able to regain motor functions --Farmerville Principal David Gray told KNOE in the immediate aftermath of the injury that the school was holding out hope he would make a complete recovery -- the teen’s condition deteriorated significantly in the days that followed, to the point that his family apparently began to realize on Sunday that he would not recover mental capabilities.

That’s when the Gipson family apparently decided to keep their son on life support long enough to prepare his body for organ donation. Once that process was complete on Monday, the Gipson family said its goodbyes and removed him from life support.

"[The Gipson family] made a very unselfish decision,” Gray told KNOE. “Many lives are going to be touched by this, many lives are going to be able to continue because of the donation the family decided that Jaleel could do.

"It's heart-wrenching, it's a very hard process to watch and being a father myself, couldn't imagine going through it."

A memorial fund has been set up to help defray the family’s expenses at Marion State Bank, a native Louisiana bank. While that may not bring Gipson back, it and the organ donation set up by the family may help some remember their friend who left them far too soon.

"I'm very fortunate in having known Jaleel," says Gray, "and being able to remember that smile, the smile that Jaleel had."

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