October 16, 2010 is a day that Eric J. LeGrand will never forget. At the time, he was a college football defensive tackle for Rutgers University. During a game against Army at MetLife Stadium, Eric suffered a severe spinal cord injury.
“I remember making that tackle and instantly I knew that something bad had happened,” said Eric LeGrand.
He was taken to the Emergency and Trauma Center at Hackensack Meridian Health Hackensack University Medical Center where doctors determined that Eric fractured his C3 and C4 cervical vertebrae and was paralyzed from the neck down.
“He spent more than three weeks at Hackensack University Medical Center, mostly in the Surgical Intensive Care Unit,” recalls Robert C. Garrett, co-CEO of Hackensack Meridian Health. “According to his health care team at Hackensack University Medical Center, Eric was very determined and very optimistic from the beginning that his spinal cord injury would not end his life. Now, eight years later, we celebrate a lesson in perseverance, courage and hope and we also celebrate Eric’s progress.”
Eric has since regained movement in his shoulders and can feel sensations throughout his body. Almost eight years after his injury, Eric visited Hackensack University Medical Center and was reunited with team members, including physicians, nurses, APNs, physical therapists, occupational therapists, respiratory therapists and dietitians who cared for him in the days after his life-altering injury.
“Hackensack University Medical Center is a Level II Regional Trauma Center, as designated by the state of New Jersey and the American College of Surgeons,” said Mark D. Sparta, FACHE, president, Hackensack University Medical Center and executive vice president, Population Health Hackensack Meridian Health. “The fact that Eric was taken to Bergen County’s only Level II Trauma Center, and one of only 10 state-designated trauma centers, undoubtedly made an enormous difference and may very well have saved Eric’s life.”
When Eric first arrived to the hospital after suffering his injury, he was seen by Saraswati Dayal, M.D., director of the Surgical Intermediate Care Unit, Division of Trauma/Surgical Critical Care and Injury Prevention, who played a critical role in his care in the first hours after his injury. Dr. Dayal performed a tracheotomy to help Eric breathe. Roy Vingan, M.D., vice chair of the Department of Neurosurgery, then operated on Eric for nine hours.
“The attitude is so much a part of recovery,” said Dr. Vingan. “If the patient comes in with the right attitude and has the support that Eric had, from his mother and his teammates, they stand the chance of recovering and living a life. Eric has shown us that anything is possible.”
Since his injury, Eric has received numerous honors and awards, including induction into the NJ Hall of Fame. Eric has also become an inspiration and a spokesperson for individuals who have suffered a spinal cord injury.
“Everyone has to go through some kind of adversity in life,” says Eric. “How you handle it ultimately defines you.”
Eric LeGrand, the former Rutgers football player who suffered a paralyzing spinal cord injury on the field eight years ago, returned to Hackensack University Medical Center where he was first treated after his accident. During his visit, he met with the medical team responsible for saving his life. From left to right: Mark D. Sparta, FACHE, president, Hackensack University Medical Center and executive vice president, Population Health Hackensack Meridian Health; Robert C. Garrett, FACHE, co-CEO, Hackensack Meridian Health; Roy Vingan, M.D., vice chair, Department of Neurosurgery, Hackensack University Medical Center; Eric LeGrand; Saraswati Dayal, M.D., director, Surgical Intermediate Care Unit, Division of Trauma/Surgical Critical Care and Injury Prevention, Hackensack University Medical Center; and Ihor S. Sawczuk, M.D., FACS, regional president, Northern Market, Hackensack Meridian Health.