BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Patricia Dugas reached out, touched Kevin Everett's arm and asked her son if he could feel her hand. Everett - lying in a hospital bed, barely awake and hooked to life support systems - nodded yes.
"I can't even explain it to you; he's like a miracle," Dugas said Wednesday, her voice breaking in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.
Doctors aren't calling it a miracle yet, but they expressed "cautious optimism" now that the Buffalo Bills reserve tight end is showing significant signs of improvement.
Everett can wiggle his toes, bend his hip, move his ankles, elevate and kick his leg, as well as extend his elbows and slightly flex his biceps, said Dr. Kevin Gibbons, the supervisor of neurosurgery at Buffalo's Millard Fillmore Gates Hospital.
But Everett, who's breathing on his own after being taken off a respirator Wednesday, cannot move his hands after sustaining a life-threatening spinal cord injury.
"There are some answers now. And many more questions remain," Gibbons said in an update to reporters. "The patient's made significant improvement. But no one should think the functions in his legs is close to normal. Not even close. ... If you ask me, 'Would he walk again?' I would tell you that I wouldn't bet against it. But he has a long way to go."
Bills orthopedic surgeon Andrew Cappuccino improved his prognosis, too, saying he's "cautiously slightly more optimistic." That's a big improvement from Monday when Cappuccino said Everett's chances for a full neurologic recovery were "bleak, dismal."
Dugas left her home in Port Arthur, Texas, on Monday not knowing whether her son would ever walk again. Everything changed Tuesday, when she watched her son move his limbs and feel her touch when he was partially awakened from a sedated state.
She spoke publicly for the first time Wednesday, knowing doctors had amended their initial grim prognosis.
"That's right. They're surprised themselves," Dugas said. "They don't know Kevin Everett. Oh, man, I always told him when he was a little boy, 'You show them better than you can tell them.' He's going to be fine. I really believe it."
Emotionally drained yet genuinely upbeat, Dugas let out a big laugh in discussing the last four difficult days.
"Happy," said Dugas, who has spent the past three days at her son's bedside. "I'm extremely happy. I'm grateful."
Everett sustained the injury Sunday after ducking his head while tackling the Denver Broncos' Domenik Hixon during the second-half kickoff of the Bills' season opener. He dropped face-first to the ground after his helmet hit Hixon high on the left shoulder and side of the helmet.
Unable to get the Bills game on TV at home, Everett's mother called several sports bars and learned one just around the corner was showing the game.
Dugas walked in just as the second half began, just in time to see her son fall to the ground.
"That's the first thing I saw. I was so upset. I was distraught, and I started panicking, 'What can I do? And I've got to get to him because he's not getting up,"' she said. "I can't explain to you how I felt, because there's no words for it. It was the worst thing I had ever saw."
"'Get up,"' Dugas recalled saying. "I mean, I can't explain it. It was just horrible."
With help from some bar patrons, Dugas composed herself, went home and immediately began making plans to travel to Buffalo.
Then came the next shock.
Cappuccino called from the hospital to inform Dugas of her son's condition. A few minutes later, Everett was on the phone.
"He put him on the phone and (Everett) said, 'Momma, don't worry. I love you. I love my sisters. I know I'll be all right,"' Dugas said. "He asked if I was coming, and I said, 'Momma is coming. You don't even worry about that."'
Despite knowing Everett's condition, Dugas was comforted by hearing his voice.
"I was so proud of him, laying in the condition that he was in and thinking about me, his family" she said.
His Bills family isn't just thinking about him - numerous players also visited Everett on their day off Tuesday.
"I started cracking little jokes to keep him upbeat," tight end Robert Royal said. "He was actually laughing a little bit when we were talking about football stuff. ... He was excited, and we told him we would stick by him no matter what."
Coach Dick Jauron, who also visited Everett, acknowledged it would be difficult for his team to prepare to play at Pittsburgh on Sunday.
"There's no way to pretend that Kevin's situation does not occupy our thoughts and our conversations a lot of the time. It certainly does," Jauron said. "But I think our guys are professional enough, and they really care enough about what they do."
Dugas went out of her way to thank the Bills, the hospital medical staff and fans for their work and support. Part of her time with Everett is spent reading him the many cards and letters that already have arrived at the hospital.
"We're going to take it slow getting him up on his feet, but we hope to see him walk out of here," she said. "He has a strong will and determination. I tell you, he's not going to settle for this. You're all going to see a miracle."
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved