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SOUL Survivor
Gary Smith
December 02, 2002
For almost two years Washington State receiver Devard Darling has been haunted by the need to find the spirit of his deceased identical twin, lifelong teammate and best friend, Devaughn.
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December 02, 2002

Soul Survivor

For almost two years Washington State receiver Devard Darling has been haunted by the need to find the spirit of his deceased identical twin, lifelong teammate and best friend, Devaughn.

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Two days after the funeral he walked into the office of a Houston cardiologist to find out if something inside him, too, lay in ambush. He underwent a series of tests and awaited the results with his stomach in a fist. Relief gusted through him when they came back negative. Then confusion when the cardiologist wouldn't give him clearance to play.

"I'm going to carry out our dream," Devard declared. His family closed ranks around him. We want to see Devaughn live through Devard, said cousin Frank.

Devard called the football office at Florida State, requesting a weightlifting program he could follow while he grieved with his family for a few weeks in Sugarland. No one would send one. Oravetz, the trainer, started philosophizing on the phone about how a college degree was more important than playing football. Uh-oh....

"We can't wait for you to get back." Hadn't Bowden told him that at the memorial service? Maybe, Devard began to think, the coaches no longer wanted him around—a ghastly facsimile, a daily reminder of who was gone and why. Already they'd had to snuff the flames of rebellion that flashed through the freshmen players: Many wanted to transfer, blaming the coaches for the horror, and some, like Devard, wanted never to set foot in the Rubber Room again. Already the coaches had begun reevaluating mat drills, a process that would lead them to introduce two mandatory four-minute water breaks, along with an ambulance and a defibrillator on site.

Devaughn's autopsy report was issued. No definitive cause of death was found, but sickle-shaped red blood cells—the ones that could form a sludge in the vessels and threaten the flow of oxygen in the blood, especially during a state of dehydration, when the overall volume of blood is reduced—were found diffused throughout his body, and the sickle-cell trait was noted as a possible underlying cause. Florida State University police filed a 300-page report finding no wrongdoing on the university's part.

Devard returned to Florida State and was promptly sent to a local cardiologist, Dr. John Katopodis. Katopodis voiced doubt that Devard should play football again. Tears rushed to Devard's eyes. Katopodis ordered a battery of tests, many of the same ones Devard had undergone in Houston. Blood tests, exercise stress tests, electrocardiograms, echocardiograms, bubble studies, MRIs of the chest and heart, oxygen saturation tests, volume oxygen tests and, hey, would he mind taking an electrophysiologic test, the one in which a wire is pushed through a tube sent up the groin and through blood vessels to the heart, so it can be microelectrically shocked into going haywire to see if it can regain its natural beat—with just a tiny, tiny risk of death? Oh? He would mind?

The cardiologist, of course, also asked Devard some questions. Yes, Devard admitted, he'd experienced some light-headedness and seen dots during rigorous workouts—but then, he thought, hadn't every athlete who ever pushed himself to his limit in the Texas and Florida heat? Yes, Devard admitted, an uncle of his had died from a heart problem—but what the cardiologist didn't realize, said cousin Frank, was that the uncle's heart had been banging from an overdose of drugs. The new tests on Devard came back negative, but Katopodis, citing Devard's family history and his experiences of light-headedness, decided to do the safest thing. He refused medical clearance and told Devard that his football life was done.

Please, son, stay, continue your studies on scholarship, the Seminoles' coaches and athletic director urged him. They weren't running him off, and couldn't he understand their position: How could the school and the cardiologist live with themselves if this tragedy unfolded twice? Devard broke down. The kid's arms had been cut off when his twin died, said Godwin Nyan, and just when he was learning to live with that, they cut off his legs.

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No. It wasn't just to soothe the surviving twin that the Yoruba washed and fed and clothed the wooden image of the deceased twin. It was to appease the departed twin's spirit so it wouldn't lure the living one to join it in death. Could that be what was happening now, as Devard decided to defy the doctor's decision, to leave Florida State, to find a college that would let him run the risk of following his twin to the other side? Where would he go? He pulled out the list of suitors who had come calling the year before, when the twins were being wooed in high school, and imagined how thrilled they'd be to have a second chance to bag a Darling.

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