In An Instant
Eric's halftime jersey retirement
I always wanted my children to be the best that they could be no matter what they were doing. And I constantly reminded them that the word "can't" was not part of our vocabulary.
My life revolved around my children. Being involved in their extra circular activities along with their school and teachers were a priority for me. I always told them that a good education was one of the keys to succeeding in life.
Having my children grow into intelligent, responsible young adults was my dream. I was a proud mother with my daughter successfully graduating from college and her younger brother receiving an athletic scholarship to attend a prestigious university.
That dream and our lives were turned upside down on October 16, 2010, when my son, a football player for Rutgers University, made a tackle on an opposing Army player. My son's name is Eric LeGrand and as he lay on the field motionless, while I looked on horrified, our lives were forever altered in an instant.
Like I said, my job as mom was to pick up Eric after he fell, wipe off the dirt and keep him moving forward. But this time, it was not that easy. Never in my life had I felt so helpless. I didn't know the extent of his injuries only that he lay there motionless. I prayed, hoped and pleaded that he was alive.
My prayers were answered -- Eric was alive; however, he fractured his C3-C4 vertebrae and was paralyzed from the neck down.
At the Reeve Foundation's 2013 A Magical Evening.
Hospital hallways quickly became my home as doctors paraded in and out of Eric's room sharing prognoses like Eric will never walk; never breath without the assistance of a ventilator; never eat normally again. I didn't tell Eric any of this initially, as I knew he needed every ounce of strength and fight to keep going.
But as I walked the hallways, I thought, "What if they are right? What kind of life is he going to have? How will we get through this?"
I was uneducated when it came to paralysis or spinal cord injuries and did not understand how the injury impacts the rest of the body beyond the spine. Depending on the level of injury, it affects your lungs, bowels, bladder, blood pressure and even temperature regulation. I had to be mindful of pressure sores and aware of when/how to move Eric's legs to prevent blood clots.
The injury alone put me in a daze but these other conditions made me feel hopeless. Many networks and organizations reached out to offer help. Initially, I could not accept any support, advice or guidance. I needed to come to terms with our new life on my own.
It would have been easy to fall apart and feel sorry for myself and for Eric, to grieve for the loss of our former life. But my ray of light, the hope on the horizon, was my son and his unwavering courage to recover. Additionally, I embraced the unconditional support of my family, friends and thousands of others. Between their love and Eric's determination, I was able to muster the resilience and strength needed to be by his side and fight to prove the prognosis wrong. While the doctors and experts explained that Eric's life would never be normal -- I just put up my hand and said, "Together we will find a new normal."
When I finally did speak with other families who experienced similar situations, it reminded me that I was not alone and progress is possible. Realizing you have a community of supporters is critical to figuring out how to forge on and march towards the future.
The other tip I learned early on was to remain positive. Whenever I or anyone else entered Eric's room, it was with a smile and positive attitude. Despite what the doctors shared, I believed that positive energy blended with hard work and time would help my son recover and live a full life. Every victory, no matter how small, would be celebrated as taking another step towards our goal -- standing, walking and moving.
Another key factor that I learned was how vital it was for me to rest. I could not support Eric if I was sleep deprived. While in the hospital, Eric did not want to be alone. He was on a ventilator, unable to move and just coming to terms with his injury. I relied on family and friends who would stay by Eric's side until he feel asleep, and the wonderful nurses who would set up their carts in his room so he would not be alone.
The weeks in ICU at Hackensack University Medical Center and the months following at Kessler Rehabilitation Center were some of the toughest, but also the greatest of times. Eric was getting stronger and making monumental strides in his recovery.
However, I soon realized that the nurses and therapists would eventually go away and I would have to learn how to care for my son on my own. I was frightened but had an army of experts ready to answer questions to ensure I felt prepared to tackle life at home. This injury can be isolating, so accepting support and guidance is critical to moving forward in life.
Accepting Reeve Foundation's Dana Reeve HOPE Award.
Life has a way of making you stop and think about things. We often get caught up in our everyday lives and take for granted our family and friends and the moments that matter. Well, take it from me -- life can change in an instant. What you have always known as normal in a split second becomes nonexistent. I went from being a mother watching her son flourish as a student and football player, to a mother now physically taking care of my adult son. But you know what, life is still good. We laugh, we have fun, we argue, and we now have a new purpose. We are living our "new normal."
As Mother's Day approaches, remember to savor the moments with family and friends and give thanks for the wonderful people in your world. Being a mother and caregiver requires an art of juggling and it's a balance that many of our community members face on a daily basis. As someone still trying to navigate these roles, the Reeve Foundation has offered me the opportunity to share my thoughts, insights and lessons learned to provide support to both caregivers and parents. My thoughts are my own, but I encourage you to reach out if there is a topic or focus you want me to address.
As my first blog, I wanted to make sure you understood my side of the story when Eric was first injured and the lessons I immediately learned from the experience. Consider this our virtual introduction and I look forward to sharing my journey as both a mother and a caregiver.