Ten months and 10 days after undergoing emergency brain surgery, Magomed Abdusalamov joined his wife and three young daughters at home Saturday for the first time since he went the distance in a brutal 10-round bout against Mike Perez at Madison Square Garden.
While Abdusalamov, 33, is in far different condition today than when he entered the ring last November as an undefeated contender for the heavyweight title, his wife, Bakanay, told "Outside the Lines" through an interpreter that his return home is an occasion for absolute joy.
"We've been waiting for this for so long, we're just thrilled we're finally going to be home again as a family together -- you can't imagine how happy I am," she said.
After suffering broken bones in his face and hand in the loss by unanimous decision to Perez, New York State Athletic Commission doctors examined Abdusalamov, sutured a laceration above his eye, gave him a neurological test requiring him to read a series of numbers and then cleared him to travel home to Florida. About three hours later, however, he came perilously close to dying, according to Dr. Rupendra Swarup, medical director of the department of neurosurgery at New York's Mt. Sinai Roosevelt Hospital, who supervised his hospital care.
In the early morning hours of Nov. 3, surgery to remove a blood clot in his brain saved Abdusalamov, said Swarup, but the native of the Russian Republic of Dagestan suffered multiple strokes, was in a coma for weeks and was left brain damaged and bedridden.
Through in-patient rehabilitation since last Christmas, Abdusalamov has regained some ability to convey thoughts, but he remains unable to speak, his wife said, adding that he can now move his left arm and leg, but is still paralyzed on the right side. And after losing about 75 pounds from his formerly formidable 231-pound physique, he has gained more than half of that weight back, she said.
Bakanay Abduslamova moved with their children from Florida to Connecticut soon after his hospitalization. The family's attorney, Paul Edelstein, said Russian businessman Andrey Ryabinsky has funded Abdusalamov's nearly $500,000 rehab stay at New York's Helen Hayes Hospital. But Edelstein said Abdusalamov still has medical bills exceeding $800,000.
Abdusalamov's wife said of Ryabinsky and Amin Suleymanova, a close family friend in Connecticut, that "without their financial, physical and emotional support, I know our situation would have been much more difficult.
"I would like to say to anybody who may encounter a situation similar to ours to never give up hope, and that love, support and prayers work miracles for people suffering with injuries like Mago's."
Swarup said Friday he has kept abreast of Abdusalamov's progress and seen videos of him using his left hand to toss a ball, pick up a spoon and wave to his family.
"The improvement has been encouraging, in light of his condition at the time of his surgery," he said.
"According to studies, what you see 18 months after such a brain injury is what you get the rest of your life," said Swarup. "Clearly he's gotten better in 10 months and he may regain some function he doesn't have now. It's not a linear progression and where it will plateau, we don't know."
Abdusalamov absorbed 312 punches from Perez, many to the left side of his head. Doctors removed a substantial portion of his skull to relieve pressure from the clot, which was pushing the brain against it. A synthetic material has since been used to replace the removed skull section, and Abdusalamov also has had a shunt installed to regulate the flow of cerebral fluid.
The plan now is for Abdusalamov to begin an outpatient rehab regimen, Edelstein said.
"We are eternally grateful for the staff and doctors at Helen Hayes and Mt. Sinai Roosevelt Hospitals for all of their efforts to get Mago to the point where he could finally come home," said Bakanay Abdusalamova, who also expressed appreciation to the Ring10 charity for its support and to everyone who has been helping the family during its ordeal.
According to his promoter, Sampson Lewkowicz, Abdusalamov's purse for the Nov. 2 fight was $40,000, and he had the required $10,000 insurance coverage.
New York State announced the launch of an investigation less than a week after the fight, amid an outcry over the bloodied Abdusalamov being allowed to fight as long as he did and reports that he had lost precious time when athletic commission doctors neither summoned an on-site ambulance nor suggested he go to a hospital that night. Abdusalamov's handlers said he was vomiting outside the Garden as they tried to find a cab to take him to an emergency room. Contacted Thursday by "Outside the Lines," a spokesman for the state inspector general's office said there is no information available on when the probe is to be completed.
As first reported by "Outside the Lines" in February, Abdusalamov's family filed notice of its intent to pursue a $100 million claim against New York State and its athletic commission, alleging negligence and medical malpractice, and in March filed suit for unspecified damages, naming as defendants the athletic commission's doctors, referee and inspector, as well as Madison Square Garden and K2 Promotions, the lead promoter of the bout.
The once-promising prizefighter who was taken by taxi from Madison Square Garden to a Manhattan emergency room 10 months ago returned to his family by ambulance early Saturday evening. A welcome home dinner celebration awaited.
His wife, Bakanay, says it's tough to deal with the questions their daughters ask about why he can't walk, but her immediate focus is on the family's reunion and her husband's smile.
"We still have a long road ahead of us, but when he was first at the rehab center, he did not know who we were," she said. "And now he is smiling and happy about going home and he can kiss and hug the girls -- it is beyond emotions for him.
"He's come a long way."