Fan paralyzed in Rupp Arena fall grateful for support from UK team, Big Blue Nation

jtipton@herald-leader.comNovember 6, 2013 

Dick Gregory, right, got a visit at the hospital Tuesday from Kentucky Coach John Calipari, second from left, and his Cats. "He was buoyed," son Scott, left, said of his dad. Gregory's wife Mary Alice also was at his bedside.

The kindness of strangers, famous and otherwise, consoles the family of Kentucky fan Dick Gregory, who suffered a serious injury in a fall minutes before the start of UK's basketball exhibition game against Transylvania on Friday night.

Gregory, 73, broke three bones in his neck when he tumbled down seven rows of bleachers in the upper deck of Rupp Arena, his son Scott said Wednesday. He is listed in serious condition at UK's Chandler Medical Center, where his family holds vigil.

"It's an awesome thing to go through and have total strangers really care," Gregory's sister Beverly Johnson said Wednesday.

UK Coach John Calipari and his players visited Gregory on Tuesday. That was the day Gregory learned the fall had left him paralyzed from the chest down.

"It changed everything," Scott said of the visit. "He was kind of depressed."

Calipari prayed with Gregory, who also spoke with the players.

"He was buoyed," Scott said.

Gregory, who was resting comfortably Wednesday and had begun therapy, described the visit by Calipari and UK players as "pretty amazing." The UK coach delivered a message of hope.

"He told me he'd be taking Communion every day this week and mentioning my name," Gregory said. "It meant the world."

Good news came earlier Wednesday when Gregory passed the "swallow test," Scott said. He asked for orange sherbet.

Gregory is a retired welder and factory worker who lives in the Louisville area. "He had no health issues," his son said. "Very physically fit."

The exhibition against Transy was going to be the first time Gregory's wife, Mary Alice, had seen Kentucky play in Rupp Arena. "She was so excited," her sister-in-law said.

Shortly before the national anthem, Gregory and his wife moved along Row J in Section 238, which is in an upper corner of Rupp. "My mom tripped," Scott said in describing what happened. "He kind of steadied her."

Mary Alice fell to her knees along Row J, but Gregory lost his balance and tumbled down the bleachers. He came to a stop in Row C.

His family wondered what difference it might have made if the bleachers had not been practically empty. If packed with people, the next row of fans surely would have prevented Gregory's tumble.

Many fans who were there rushed to help. Before an emergency medical team arrived, doctors who happened to be in the stands nearby performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation and inserted a breathing tube.

"I could just feel a good presence," Gregory said. "I could feel people praying and hear them. It was quite the thing."

For its home games, UK provides first aid and medical assistance. Bill Owen, president and CEO of Lexington Center Corp., said falls are inevitable given the 800,000 to 900,000 patrons who visit Rupp Arena each year. "But we have a very low, minimal number of such instances," he said. "We regret what happened very much and extend our sympathies."

UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart helped Mary Alice Gregory find her car so she could drive to the hospital. The family expects Gregory to remain hospitalized until at least the middle of next week. Then the family hopes to move him to Frazier Rehab Institute in Louisville.

Meanwhile, strangers have brought snacks, muffins, sandwiches, gift cards and well wishes.

Said Gregory's brother-in-law Tom Johnson, "It somewhat helps to know there are so many great people out there."

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com.

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