New Castle News


September 15, 2012

‘God was watching over him’: Derrick Burns is finding a way to adjust to life without football

NEW CASTLE — Everything about Derrick Burns screams football player.

The broad shoulders, muscular legs — even the football he constantly carries around with him — make it obvious that the young man with the easy smile has got game.

Four months ago, in fact, the 20-year-old redshirt sophomore on the University of Pittsburgh football team had the world by the proverbial tail as he prepared for 2012 and a possible starting berth for the Panthers.

Then Derrick got the headache that turned his world upside down.


It was May 13, and the son of Dan and Cindy Burns of New Wilmington reported to Pitt for summer workouts, flying high after a good spring practice. Following two days of strenuous workouts, the headache started.

“The weird thing was, I was running, lifting and working out and wasn’t sweating,” Derrick said. “Everybody around me was sweating like crazy and I had nothing coming out of me at all. In all the years I’ve been playing sports, that has never happened to me.”

It was, as it turned out, a big red flag.

A day later, Derrick’s headache had gotten so bad that he didn’t go to practice.

Instead, thinking of his good friend and former fellow Wilmington High football star Clint DeRosa, who died in 2010 of a brain aneurysm, he texted his family with the words, “I’m scared.”

At Dan’s and Cindy’s urging, Derrick went to the emergency room at Presbyterian Hospital, where he underwent a CAT scan, followed by a spinal tap and MRI.

On May 18, a neurosurgeon called Cindy with the results.

“He said there was no bleeding and that nothing pointed to anything other than a migraine,” she said. “He couldn’t look at light, we were told he had all the classic signs. Basically we were told not to worry.”

On May 19, Derrick texted his mom to tell her that he was in the worst pain of his life and that the only thing he could do to alleviate it was sleep.

A day later, Derrick attended church, then again slept for hours.

On May 21, Derrick called Cindy at Wilmington Middle School, where she is a secretary, and pleaded with her to come to his apartment and pick him up.

She brought him home, and his sister Julie promised to stay with him while she returned to work. Shortly after she arrived, Julie called to say Derrick’s right side was going numb. Cindy took him to their family physician, who looked at the results and confirmed the migraine diagnosis.

“He gave Derrick some migraine pills and told me to have him take one, then if that didn’t help, to take another one,” she said. “Those two pills did nothing. At that point, I wasn’t sitting back any longer. I know the tests didn’t show anything, but I know my son and something was wrong,” Cindy said.

By the time Derrick arrived in the family’s car at Horizon Hospital in Farrell, he couldn’t stand.

“They made us wait 45 minutes and Derrick was in so much pain, he went outside and laid on the sidewalk,” she said. “He was writhing in agony. I was pleading with them to do something for him.”

Derrick was given morphine intravenously, which alleviated the pain, but as Cindy learned later, likely just masked the symptoms. At 2 a.m. May 22, he was sent home.

His parents went to work the next morning as he again stayed home with Julie, and shortly after 9:30 a.m., he was on the phone with his academic adviser when his left arm started shaking uncontrollably.

“I heard him scream my name,” said Julie, who was napping on a nearby couch, “and then I heard the thud.”

Derrick had fallen between the family’s living room and kitchen. Julie could see he was paralyzed on his right side and phoned her mother. In the meantime, the adviser, realizing something had happened, phoned Cindy as well.

Dan was at work at Precision Feedscrews in New Castle when a volunteer fireman he works with received a call on his radio that a Dutchman was having a seizure. “Then I heard the address come over the radio and I said, ‘why is a Dutchman having a seizure at my house?’ ” he said.

“That’s when it hit me,” Dan added. “Oh, no, that’s my son.”

Cindy raced to her home, which is located in the middle of Amish country on the outskirts of New Wilmington, just as an ambulance was arriving.

“Derrick and Julie both were on the floor and she was holding his head in her lap and he wasn’t moving,” Cindy said. “I have never been so fearful in my life.”

The 5-foot-11, 235-pound Derrick, in blinding pain, became combative.

“I took one of the ambulance attendants out,” he said apologetically. “I didn’t know what was happening, I only remember parts of it even now.”

Text Only | Photo Reprints
  • Pitt Football: Panthers beef up lines in 2013 recruiting class

    There’s a formula Pittsburgh coach Paul Chryst likes to use when building a team: start with the inside and go from there. Given a year to figure out what he’s got on his hands with the Panthers, Chryst hit the recruiting trail this winter with one goal in mind.

    February 7, 2013

  • d3262194ae25b01c1d0f6a706700680a.jpg ‘Sad Day”: College football guru Beano Cook dies at 81

    Beano Cook, the college football commentator with an encyclopedic knowledge of the sport he dearly loved, has died. The 81-year-old Boston native had worked for ESPN since 1986 and was the sports information director at his alma mater, the University of Pittsburgh, from 1956 to 1966. The school announced Thursday that Cook had died in his sleep.

    October 12, 2012 1 Photo

  • Burns1.jpg ‘God was watching over him’: Derrick Burns is finding a way to adjust to life without football

    Everything about Derrick Burns screams football player. The broad shoulders, muscular legs — even the football he constantly carries around with him — make it obvious that the young man with the easy smile has got game.

    September 15, 2012 3 Photos

  • Louisville knocks off Pitt

    Russ Smith scored 18 points, Kyle Kuric added 17 and No. 17 Louisville held on to beat Pittsburgh, 57-54, on Sunday.
    Pittsburgh (15-14, 4-12) cut the lead to one and had three chances to tie or take the lead in the final minute, but Tray Woodall missed a jumper and senior Ashton Gibbs’ shot from just inside halfcourt as time expired missed off the back iron.

    February 27, 2012

  • cad161b5d4946a04070f6a7067009414.jpg Backyard Basketbrawl: West Virginia storms past Pittsburgh

    West Virginia center Deniz Kilicli doesn't know if he'll get chance to play Pittsburgh again. The next time the rivals face each other on the basketball court, Kilicli could be long gone. The burly center from Turkey didn't miss a chance to give the Mountaineers perhaps the final word in the Backyard Brawl.

    February 17, 2012 1 Photo

  • a33c310757650304070f6a7067009fe0.jpg College Basketball: Ex-Aliquippa star Pope leads Seton Hall past Pitt

    Seton Hall rode some unexpected shooting by a freshman and some steady plays by its seniors to a sorely needed win. Freshman Aaron Cosby made five 3-pointers and finished with a season-high 19 points, while Herb Pope had 19 points and 14 rebounds.

    February 13, 2012 1 Photo

  • Pitt.jpg College Basketball: South Florida ends Pitt winning streak

    South Florida’s Hugh Robertson combined a perfect night offensively with a stellar defensive performance that helped the Bulls rebound from their worst-ever Big East loss.

    February 9, 2012 1 Photo

  • 0fa44d9da3745c03060f6a70670080a0.jpg College Basketball: Woodall leads Pitt past Villanova

    Pittsburgh senior Ashton Gibbs is a happy man now that his backcourt mate, junior Tray Woodall, is back and healthy in the starting lineup. He's almost as happy as Woodall, who recovered from a groin/abdominal strain to turn in one of his best performances of the season.

    February 6, 2012 1 Photo

  • 47d130c23778fc02040f6a706700d3a4.jpg College Basketball: Pitt falls to Louisville for eighth straight loss

    Pittsburgh hoped the return of point guard Tray Woodall and a raucous home crowd would help them finally snap their nearly monthlong losing streak and earn their first Big East win of the season.

    January 22, 2012 1 Photo

  • 585cca54355f0901040f6a706700b1a3.jpg College Basketball: Lifeless Pitt loses fifth straight game

    Eli Carter scored 14 points, Dane Miller added 11 points and 12 rebounds and Rutgers crushed reeling Pittsburgh 62-39 on Tuesday night.

    January 12, 2012 1 Photo

House Ads

"State Fair" opens at the New Castle Playhouse tonight. Will you be checking out the show?

Definitely! I've already got my tickets.
Maybe. I'm not sure.
Nah, it's not for me.
     View Results