Abdusalamov enters first Father's Day at home since injury

Abdusalamov still fighting (6:59)

Two years after suffering a severe brain injury following a fight, former heavyweight boxing contender Magomed Abdusalamov and his family continue to face difficult challenges. (6:59)

GREENWICH, Conn. -- He can barely mumble "schast'ye," a Russian word for happiness or joy, as he tries to describe the hold his three young daughters have on a father who is unable to hold them.

That feeling and the attempt to convey it signify poignant progress for Magomed Abdusalamov since the earliest hours of Nov. 3, 2013.

Late the night before, the 6-foot-3, 231-pound southpaw took an 18-0 record into the Theater at Madison Square Garden ring against Mike Perez as the two undefeated fighters pursued a potential shot at the heavyweight title. At the end of a brutal 10-round bout, Perez was the unanimous winner and Abdusalamov's face was a bloody mess.

Abdusalamov's handlers brought him to an emergency room by taxi after New York State Athletic Commission doctors eschewed putting him in an on-site ambulance and didn't advise him to go to the hospital, although they sutured a laceration above his eye, examined a suspected facial fracture and administered a neurological test that indicated some decrease in function from the prefight test.

By the time he reached an operating table, the rest of his life was never going to be the same. Emergency surgery removed a blood clot in his brain, but he suffered multiple strokes, was in a coma for weeks and remained in hospitals for more than 10 months.

It's impossible to know what Abdusalamov, 34, remembers of the photo and video scenes from before all of this, capturing the doting, devoted dad who relished games and homework with his girls. Now as his daughters, ages 9, 6 and 2, kiss and caress him, and he holds a toy phone in his left hand to the delight of the little one, there's no doubting the "schast'ye" in the room.

But as he's about to spend his first Father's Day at home since the tragic fight at the Garden, Abdusalamov's verbal communication consists of occasional whispers and blurts of single words, most requiring his wife to decipher them. And he remains paralyzed on the right side, unable to stand on his own.

"There's nothing harder in the world than watching someone you love in such a state, and you're powerless to help him," his wife, Bakanay, said.

The all-encompassing help she does provide is powerful testament to the devout Muslim couple's relationship, 11 years after an arranged marriage in their native Dagestan.

His life's most basic needs and functions are now shouldered by her. "Right now," she said, "I'm trying to get him to tell me when he needs to go to the bathroom. I teach him every day."

Five years Abdusalamov's junior, Bakanay said she used to be thoroughly dependent on him. She said she'd been that type of person since she was a child, when she was "such a little coward, that's what they called me."

"And now the little coward has turned into this strong woman," she added.

The tests of that strength seem to have just begun.

The doctor who supervised Abdusalamov's hospital care said patients this far removed from such traumatic brain injuries can't count on significant progress. The family, according to a court filing in its negligence and medical malpractice lawsuit against New York State Athletic Commission doctors and officials, has more than $2 million in medical bills -- and the case is mired in legal machinations. And a state inspector general's investigation begun days after the fight has yet to conclude.

When Bakanay has moments of despair while she attends to "Mago," she makes sure to leave the room or hide her face, she said. And caring for the girls leaves no time to be downcast.

There has been help. Family friend Amin Suleymanov provided a home and gives constant physical and financial assistance. Russian boxing magnate Andrey Ryabinsky funded a rehabilitation hospital stay, the Ring10 charity sent contributions and a local farm recently began gratis weekly grocery deliveries.

The family took out a loan for a specially equipped van to bring Abdusalamov to rehab and is exploring other loans against potential proceeds from the lawsuit. And this week the Abdusalamovs established a "Go Fund Me" site in response to inquiries about donations.

Unfathomable challenges call for creative approaches -- and deep reservoirs.

"When you think you've got no strength left," Bakanay said, "you go to sleep and wake up with renewed strength, so we will keep on."

Correspondent John Barr's Outside the Lines report "Still Fighting" on Abdusalamov and his family, produced by William Weinbaum, is scheduled to air Sunday, June 21, at 9 a.m. ET on ESPN, 10 a.m. ET on ESPN2, 11a.m. ET/noon ET on ESPNews.