Rutgers Football Player Eric LeGrand Paralyzed from Neck Down

Sean Johnson

Football fans were reminded of how brutal the game can be when Rutgers defensive tackle suffered a paralyzing injury after tackling a player in Saturday's game.

Football is a brutal sport; no one who has ever watched a game will argue with that. It seems that every year there are countless injuries at every level of play, with varying levels of severity. Unfortunately, on occasion, a tragedy occurs on the field like the one that happened this past Saturday, when Rutgers defensive tackle Eric LeGrand suffered a paralyzing spinal cord injury after making a tackle on a kickoff.

Despite the protective equipment players wear, there’s no telling when an awkward, incidental hits can happen. It’s the nature of the sport. Players are taught to go 110%, and when you have an entire field of players acting with that intensity, it’s hard to avoid injuries. However, each time something tragic like this happens, it’s a stark reminder of just how dangerous the game can be.

LeGrand suffered the injury with just over five minutes left in regulation (Rutgers won the game in overtime). Although the play didn’t at first look to be serious, both sides knew that something terrible had happened after LeGrand hit the field and then was only seen moving his head. Trainers immediately ran to take care of LeGrand, forcing him to stay completely still and making sure his airway was open. Players from both teams formed circles and began to pray for LeGrand, who was carted of the field about 7 minutes after the collision and taken to Hackensack University Medical Center, where he underwent emergency surgery to stabilize his spine.

While initial reports are obviously very disconcerting, there has been an outpouring of support from many people who are trying to help LeGrand and his family remain positive about the situation. Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano told reporters that LeGrand is in good spirits, and added that “As I told our team, we are going to believe that Eric LeGrand is going to walk onto that field again with us. That's what we believe. We'll see with what speed that happens.”

Mark R. McLaughlin, the medical director for Princeton Brain and Spine Care, said that LeGrand’s chances of walking again depend “on whether the spinal cord has been bruised or severed, and how badly,” adding that it’s too early to tell right now and that “miracles can happen.”

Essentially, LeGrand has three options for treatment, something that is outlined on NJ.com’s reporting on the incident. The goals right now are to promote blood flow to the spinal cord, ensure that Legrand’s oxegenation level is normal to prevent pneumonia, and to make sure he does not aspirate by preventing the buildup of fluid in his stomach.

Adam Taliaferro, who suffered a similar spinal cord injury when he played with Penn State a decade ago, had some words of wisdom for LeGrand. Taliaferro, who was told by that he would have a 3% chance of walking again after his injury, regained feelings in his legs and began walking again 8 months after his fifth cervical vertebrae ruptured. Taliaferro has this to say:

“The toughest part immediately is the mental aspect. That’s why he’s going to need everyone around him to stay positive. His life has changed. But being a football player, he's in good shape. He knows what it means to work hard. So he has that going for him. One of the things that helped me recover is that I was an athlete.”

In 2007, Buffalo Bills’ tight end Kevin Everett also suffered a spinal injury that initially paralyzed him, but fully recovered three months after the injury. It’s stories like these that will have to keep LeGrand and his family positive during the difficult rehabilitation process that lies ahead. With a positive attitude, some hard work, and a little bit of luck, this will hopefully turn out to be another inspirational story of recovery.

More on Eric LeGrand

Rutgers player, paralyzed from neck down, begins his recovery [Washington Post]

Adam Taliaferro's message to Rutgers' Eric LeGrand: Stay positive [NJ.com]

Information on spinal cord injuries:

Hope for spinal cord patients - "History was made this month when a patient in Atlanta was treated for the first time with a therapy derived from human embryonic stem cells. "

Spinal Cord Injuries - In formation on spinal cord injuries from Medline Plus.