A model athlete, a devoted son, a loyal friend.
That’s how friends and family describe former Barron Collier High School baseball standout Ryan Duffy, 23, who is in critical condition, paralyzed from the neck down, with severe spinal cord injuries at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami.
During what became a traumatic guys' weekend in Key West, Duffy and a few friends enjoyed a summer vacation before parting ways.
It began as a fun idea to jump off a dock and into the Atlantic Ocean. But it quickly escalated into a fear-riddled ambulance ride. When Duffy dove into the water, it was too shallow, causing him to break his neck.
An off-duty firefighter saw Duffy being pulled to shore by his friend and immediately administered cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
"He's beating himself up with guilt," Ryan's mother, Cathy Duffy, said about Ryan's best friend. "But, he saved his life, he gave him a chance to fight."
Though this is an emotional time for the Duffy family, Cathy has taken a lesson from her son's life and is trying to maintain morale, like Ryan did for his baseball team.
She began a website on CaringBridge.com, a free, nonprofit web service that connects family and friends during serious health events.
"If you read all the comments people left," Cathy Duffy said through tears, "people we know and people we don't even know prove he was just loved so much and was always the joker on the team."
Family and friends remain hopeful that Ryan will take his hardworking, motivational persona and use it to overcome this obstacle.
Duffy attended Barron Collier High School and graduated in 2005. That was also the year he was named the Daily News' Baseball Player of the Year. He went on to play baseball at Mississippi State University, where he was listed as a senior in the spring.
His former coach at Barron Collier High School, Ted Parsons, visited Duffy Monday night, and was greeted with that same charismatic smile he wore when playing his favorite sport.
"He's making great strides every single day," Parsons said today. "He knows who we are and is very attentive."
Duffy is paralyzed from the neck down due to three broken vertebrae, which are now replaced with metal, and has a tracheotomy preventing him from speaking.
But, with one blink for yes and two for no, he is charming and entertaining all his visitors. And for those that know him best, such as his brother Nick, reading his lips comes easily.
From Cathy's conversations with the physicians, no definitive prognosis can be made, yet. But, the fact that he is able to communicate and is astutely responsive suggests he is a fighter and could pull through tomorrow or in a few months.
"His back is still inflamed and swollen, " Cathy Duffy said.
But to Cathy, and Parsons, Ryan will be back on the diamond knocking balls out of the park any day now.
"He's a fighter. He's very strong, no other health issues with his body, Cathy said on her way to visit her son at the hospital. “Best possible person to work on it and fight through it."