Rasul Rocky Clark, a former running back for the Eisenhower High School Cardinals in Blue Island, Ill., who was paralyzed from the neck down when he was tackled during a game in 2000, died at Ingalls Memorial Hospital in Harvey, Ill., near Chicago, on Thursday at the age of 27, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
Clark, a junior at the time of his injury, was grabbed by the shoulders and tackled, hitting his head on the ground in a game against Oak Forest High School. Doctors determined that his neck was broken in two places and he was hospitalized nine months, according to the Associated Press. But Clark was still able to graduate. He then took some college courses, but couldn't handle the full-time schedule.
Hospital spokeswoman Susan Fine told the AP that Clark died after he underwent surgery, but the cause of death wasn't immediately known. According to Clark's obituary in the Chicago Tribune, he had been in the hospital for about a week because of lung and kidney complications.
Clark was surrounded by family and friends at the hospital when he passed away, according to the AP.
He was an inspiration and he gave us good and bad times, said his sister Dynetta. He doesn't have to struggle or suffer anymore. He did good deeds, and we will miss him.
Clark described his feeling after being tackled in 2000 in an interview with the AP last year.
When I started coming around, I heard a bunch of ringing, he said. My whole body was vibrating, like a spring. I felt cold air. I tried to get up, but I couldn't.
The AP reports that Clark and his family had been fighting an unsuccessful battle to keep Clark's health insurance ever since he spent nine months at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. The hospital bill ended up approaching $1 million when Clark went home.
Clark's care was provided through a $5 million insurance policy held by Community High School District 218, which stopped paying for his care last year. Since then, he relied on Medicaid and his mother, Annette, who performed the tasks formerly performed by three nurses.
After the insurance expired, Clark's mother, the rest of the family and other supporters publicized everything the family was going through and held fundraisers after being overwhelmed by medical bills.
The Chicago Bears and others donated money to make the Clark house wheelchair-accessible, and in December, officials of the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame donated $25,000.
District 218 Supt. John Byrne told the Sun-Times that he had visited Clark several times, including during a visit about two weeks ago with the members of the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame.
It's very sad, Byrne said. He was such a fighter. There will be a gap in our world. The day before Christmas Eve he looked great, better than I had seen him in the last few times. Our heart goes out to Rocky and Mrs. Clark, and we will still try to support them as best we can.