Jeff’s right lung collapsed a week after he got to the hospital. It now randomly fills with mucus and chokes off his air supply, and makes it necessary for him to be hooked up to a ventilator at all times. He hasn’t been able to breathe on his own since December 24th, and doctors had to perform a tracheotomy to help assist Jeff breathe. Jeff’s life now runs through a twisting series of plastic tubes that snake in and around his skin. His body has been in a hospital bed for over a month and he’s having to deal with the constant assault of pressure, friction, and sheering that are starting to break down parts of his skin and create open wounds and bedsores.
Jeff can’t feel anything below his waist. He has movement in his arms, but not in his fingers yet. His body is fighting a catastrophic injury to his spine, and his condition hasn’t improved in over a month. Jeff’s mother, Kathy Dunbar, is wheelchair ridden from a series of strokes she suffered several years ago, and the family is without medical insurance. Jeff had been supporting the family and was trying to propel an amateur MMA career all the way to the UFC, but all that’s gone, and now Jeff is a 20-years-old fighter who can’t move his legs.
Jeff Dunbar suffered a spinal injury while he was fighting in a local amateur MMA event in December. During that fight Jeff tried to throw an opponent off his back as he was trying to defend against a rear naked choke. The move failed and Jeff struck the mat with his head with his opponent still on his back.
The fight briefly continued on the ground and his opponent finished off his chokehold before the referee stopped the fight.
His mother and sister were in attendance and immediately knew that something was terribly wrong. They both rushed to the cage, but before they could reach Jeff, his mother contends that the referee unwittingly rolled Jeff onto his back. His sister, Nicole, entered the cage screaming, “What did you do to my brother?” The audience had already gone quiet, but now everyone knew they were witnessing something horrible.
“I’m trying to roll through the crowd because I didn’t want anyone to move him. I knew that this wasn’t suppose to be done (have him moved), and the horror of all horrors happened right before my eyes when the referee rolled him,” said Kathy.
Jeff was rushed to Provena St. Joseph Medical Center, but the damage was already severe. Jeff had dislocated two vertebrae and his spinal cord was crushed.
The promoter for the event, Fight Card Entertainment, didn’t have insurance for the fight and the referee for the bout was working under an expired license.
Before his injury Jeff was an outgoing, athletic 20 year old who was well liked and popular. He was active in many different sports, and was a mentor to his younger cousins and the caretaker of his physically impaired mother.
About a year ago Jeff decided we wanted to become a fighter. He started training out of No Comment gym under the tutelage of coach Josh Bulak, and started fighting in local, amateur bouts.
“When he told me that’s what he wanted to do I was skeptical,” said Ms. Dunbar. “But when he told me he was doing it for us, I came around to it.”
Jeff had mixed success in the ring, but the sport he was learning has a high learning curve and Jeff was making process in each month of his training.
“He came a long way from where he was,” said coach Bulak. “His first fight he lost to someone he shouldn’t have lost to, but kept improving and getting better.”
But now Jeff’s battles are confined to a hospital bed, and his injury has been incredibly difficult on his friends and family.
“Since everything has happened, it’s been stressful,” said Nicole. “I’ve been bitter, sad, you know, questioning a lot of things.”
“I’m still trying to understand things, and I’m dealing with it better now. It’s depressing to me really, cause I was used to playin around with him, and now I can’t.”
Jeff’s fight has now shifted to Kindred Hospital Chicago North, his second hospital in less than a month.
His mother and sister are constantly at his side, and pictures of Jeff and his friends have been taped to the wall along with printouts of well-wishes and prayers.
But even through the torrent of good will and support, no one from Fight Card Entertainment has contacted the Dunbar family.
Nilo Soto, the owner of Fight Card Entertainment, and his partner Brian Angelo both declined to comment about whether or not they had insurance for the fight in a recent article written by the Chicago Tribune.
Sources from around the Chicago MMA community though have confirmed that they didn’t have an insurance policy for that particular fight, and the silence the family has received from them seems to support that notion.
Jeff and his family agree that what happened to him was a “freak accident” and even in the violent world of MMA, his injury is rare. But even with a mountain of personal problems, Jeff has made it clear what he wants is to get help to other fighters, and he still wants to be involved with MMA in some way.
“The first time he was able to speak to me he said, ‘Make sure the other fighters get some protection,’” said Kathy. “There are a lot of young men doing this, and there should be a safety net for them and their families.”
“If someone gets really hurt like this, he wants them to be able to get help. He doesn’t want money or anything. It’s wonderful that people want to send money and donations, but ultimately he wants some kind of protection for other fighters.”
Maybe Fight Card Entertainment should adopt the same attitude.
For more information about Jeff, check out the Tribune article here, and his interview on Cheez TV tonight on WCIU at 2 am.