Thompson injured in fall at home

Paul Kix

Gary Thompson, color commentator for ISU men’s basketball games, fractured four vertebrae in his neck, and may not return to the microphone this winter.

Early last Sunday morning, Aug. 19, Thompson woke, stumbled through his darkened two-story Ames home – “I may have been sleepwalking” – and fell down 16 carpeted basement steps.

Thompson said he felt as if he was free-falling.

“I only remember hitting my head,” he said.

Janet Thompson, Gary’s wife of 46 years, said “It sounded like something fell from the wall.”

Janet called their son Rick. But when Thompson, 66, complained of neck pains, Janet called for emergency help.

Thompson was sent to Mary Greeley Medical Center in Ames where Dr. Robert Gitchell, an orthopedic surgeon and close friend of Thompson’s, ran X-rays.

They showed no damage.

Still, “The back of my neck was hurting like crazy,” Thompson said.

Gitchell put Thompson through a CAT scan. There he noticed fractures along the third, fourth, fifth and sixth vertebrae.

Gitchell said if the first or second had snapped, it may have led to death.

The chance of paralysis was also lessened because the fracture dissipated over three vertebrae, Thompson said.

After the CAT scan, Thompson was rushed to Iowa Methodist Medical Center in Des Moines, where neurosurgeons waited.

It was decided surgery would not be needed.

“It was the best news I’ve ever heard,” Thompson said.

“Gary had a stable fracture,” Gitchell added.

A stable fracture means when Thompson tipped his head back, it didn’t fall off, Gitchell explained.

Thompson was instructed to wear a neck brace for two months when he was released last Tuesday.

Last Thursday it was reported Thompson may not return for his 20th season as a color commentator for men’s basketball.

“I thought about quitting two years ago,” Thompson said. “I haven’t made a decision yet.”

Janet Thompson said Gary may like to spend the basketball season at Ames High School, watching his grandson.

Bob Helmers, the national director of distribution and clearance for ESPN Regional, hopes Thompson doesn’t.

“He’s one of the best in business” Helmers said.

ESPN Regional has bought the rights to Cyclone Television Network’s games for the next two seasons.

So far, Helmers hasn’t looked elsewhere.

“We will deal with that when Gary makes his decision,” he said.

“He’s the best I’ve ever worked with at breaking the game down and explaining it to the fans,” John Walters said.

Walters has worked alongside Thompson for the last five season’s as a play-by-play analyst for Cyclone Television Network and ESPN Regional.

With Thompson’s knowledge of the Cyclones (he is ISU’s first 1000 point career scorer and helped ISU baseball to the `57 College World Series) Walters said, “Nobody’s more qualified to do this [for Iowa State] than Gary.”

Helmers said if Thompson wanted it, more money could be offered for this season’s work.

“That’s not really his motivation though,” Helmers said.