Eric LeGrand Makes Lasting Impression
at Seton Hall University
When asked how he copes with his spinal cord injury that left him paralyzed from the shoulders down, Eric LeGrand, the former football player for Rutgers University, said: “The people I’m surrounded by. I’m humbled. I see people who are not as fortunate as me.”Seton Hall University’s School of Health and Medical Sciences (SHMS) hosted the star athlete on September 16 in the Walsh Gymnasium, where he was accompanied by his therapists from the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation, Sandra “Buffy” Wojciehowski, PT, DPT, a Physical Therapy Clinical Specialist and a 2007 graduate of the SHMS Doctor of Physical Therapy program, and Gabriella Stiefbold, OT, ATP, an Occupational Therapy Clinical Specialist.
Later, the three were joined by two members of the Rutgers University Sports Medicine staff, who helped LeGrand at the time of his injury in 2010: team physician Dr. Robert Monaco, MD, the Director of Sports Medicine and Assistant Athletic Director, and David McCune, MS, ATC, Director of Athletic Training Services and Head Football Athletic Trainer. This was the first time the two had ever publicly spoken about the accident.
Wojciehowski moderated the dialogue among LeGrand, Stiefbold and herself before a captivated audience of nearly 1,000 people. “Eric LeGrand’s New Team” was the inaugural event of SHMS’ Interprofessional Perspectives Speaker Series.
LeGrand opened by discussing what he remembers of the injury on the football field and his first days in the hospital. LeGrand recalled the worst part of the injury as not being able to breathe and then having to slowly be weaned off a ventilator. He said after five weeks he was able to completely breathe on his own, which he never thought he would be able to do.
During discussions among LeGrand, Wojciehowski and Stiefbold, LeGrand noted that one of his main goals for his rehabilitation at the Kessler Institute was to be able to sit up on his couch and watch television if he wished—which Stiefold pointed out is a luxury most people take for granted.
“Kessler is like a big family,” LeGrand said of his healthcare team. “I consider them to be my best friends. I see them every day. Everyone has one mission, to get their patient better. Everyone works for one goal.”
SHMS dean Brian B. Shulman, PhD, served as master of ceremonies. “We were thrilled to showcase how an interprofessional team of healthcare providers – including Buffy, one of our School’s most successful graduates – can work together to provide the best in patient-centered care. Interprofessional education is an integral part of our School’s mission, and this inaugural event of our Interprofessional Perspectives Speaker Series further demonstrates our commitment to preparing students to make a difference in the world.”
During the question-and-answer session, Monaco and McCune talked about their roles and immediate response to LeGrand’s injury, which occurred after he tackled an opposing player. They said their main mission was to get LeGrand to relax and get him to the hospital as quickly and safely as possible, as they remembered the only murmur that was coming from the injured player’s mouth that day: “I can’t breathe.” It only took seven minutes to get LeGrand off the field and into a waiting ambulance.
“I really trusted these guys,” LeGrand said. “I gave them all the credit in the world.”
Since his injury, LeGrand has made significant improvement at Kessler. He can now move his upper body 7 to 8 in. forward and back, which Wojciehowski said helps a lot if he happens to hit a bump in the road; he will not be completely jolted and can reposition himself.
LeGrand said he is 100 percent sure he will gain his mobility back.
In the past three years, LeGrand has written two books, received an ESPY Award and spoke at the White House and met with Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor to President Barack Obama.
He also founded Team LeGrand, part of the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, to support quality-of-life initiatives for individuals and families dealing with spinal cord injuries. Visit www.teamlegrand.org/join to make a donation.
- Lindsay Rittenhouse