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NRN

Continuing what Christopher Reeve Started

Eric Legrand
Eric LeGrand is living with a spinal cord injury from a tackle playing football in October of 2010.

Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation President & CEO, Peter T. Wilderotter is running the Virgin America London Marathon on April 22, 2012. He has chosen to dedicate each of the 26 miles to someone who has made a profound impact on the work of the Reeve Foundation. Peter is writing about these 26 remarkable people in his blog - one each day leading up to the marathon.

Mile 6 is dedicated to Eric LeGrand.

By: Peter T. Wilderotter, Reeve Foundation President & CEO

On October 16th, 2010, I was traveling to Los Angeles to attend the 7th annual Life Rolls On Night By The Ocean fundraising dinner. A year prior, this unique organization became a subsidiary of Reeve, and this was its first major event under our umbrella.

We were excited by the venue, the Beverly Hilton, and the broad reach of this outstanding group to athletes and the young. I checked my voicemail upon landing as I customarily do, and to my surprise, it was filled to capacity with the dreadful news that a vibrant, young college football player from our own home state, Rutgers University, sustained a potential spinal cord injury.

The "dark period"
It was nearly impossible to focus. There was very little information forthcoming, but that fateful tackle was broadcast over and over and over again, and unofficially, word was leaking out that he did, indeed, suffer a catastrophic SCI. Everyone from the Foundation was heartsick with the knowledge of the surreal and frightening weeks and months ahead this young man and his family would undoubtedly be facing. This is often called the "dark period" - urgent decisions must be made, lives are forevermore changed, and there is little chance for repose, let alone to grasp the enormity of what just occurred.

Eric,Karen,and Peter
Eric, Karen, and Peter in August of 2011 at the Reeve Foundation's offices.

The loss of Christopher seemed even more at the forefront then - since it was at times like these that his personal calls were made to offer hope and aid and compassion and a vital road map - fast forwarding our challenge to fill those shoes and implement our Peer and Family Support Program. Days turned into weeks, and we started to learn about the backbone of the football coach, Greg Schiano, the class of the University and the greater Rutgers community, and a whole lot about the soul and character of Eric LeGrand. Believe was the mantra and the news became encouraging. Eric was off the ventilator, he had some movement, folks were optimistic - and fortunately, the family was allowed some privacy and time to absorb and plan.

A smile of hope
Some months later, we had a chance to meet Eric and one of the most beautiful and strong people I have ever encountered - his Mom, Karen. Eric came to our office to speak with the staff and has since done some events with us. Soon, he will be inducted as an "unsung hero" into the New Jersey Hall of Fame - the very same night that Chris will be inducted. Eric has a smile and an attitude that fills a room with hope. Among his blessings he counts his wonderful health insurance from the NCAA, his participation in the Reeve NeuroRecovery Network at an institution as great as the Kessler Institute, and the friends and family who most assuredly will be right at this side for the long haul. But what I found most remarkable is that Eric comprehends that had he been injured in a car or a fall instead, the care and benefits afforded to him would be far less. And he wants to do something about that - use his voice in Washington, if needed, and spread his message of hope.

Eric will have a wonderful career in broadcasting - to hear him behind the mike is to realize he's a natural. Chris used to say, "It's what you do after the accident that matters" and Eric will continue to lead and inspire as evidenced by his win of the Sports Illustrated Story of the Year competition that drew over 75 million votes. He knows his road will be long and filled with ups and downs, but he has an athlete's rigor and I'm betting on him.

These days I think about Karen mostly - the one who now blocks and covers for Eric. Who takes care of the caregiver? Her strength and wisdom is equally powerful, and I'll probably need more of what she has as I tackle mile 6. Mile 6 is when the race starts to get a little tedious and daunting and 20 more seems like an eternity... you must BELIEVE.

Eric Treadmill
As part of his therapy, LeGrand has specially trained therapists walking his legs.

To make a donation in honor of Eric LeGrand, please visit my London Marathon Fundraising Page.

Here is an update on LeGrand's progress as of March 2012 at the Reeve Foundation NeuroRecovery Network at Kessler Rehabilitation Institute in West Orange, NJ:

By: Janelle LoBello

LeGrand, living with a C3, C4 level spinal cord injury, has made several strides since his initial injury. As part of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation NeuroRecovery Network at Kessler Rehabilitation Institute in West Orange, NJ, LeGrand's therapy includes locomotor training and stability in sitting and balancing exercises.

In locomotor training sessions, the individual living with paralysis is suspended in a harness over a treadmill, while specially-trained therapists move his legs to simulate walking. As the patient regains function, he moves from the treadmill to conventional walking. No two NRN patients will respond in exactly the same way, nor is each patient likely to experience the entire range of possible changes and improvements.

Specially-trained therapists "are walking my legs since I can't walk them myself," says LeGrand of the treadmill therapy. "It feels like I'm actually walking, it feels like I'm in space. I have some sensation, when my foot hits hard, I feel it. I can still feel somewhat what's going on."

Eric and Buffy
Eric and his therapist, Buffy, practice sitting and balancing while unassisted.

A step in the right direction
Though he would ultimately like to at least gain back function in his hands and arms, LeGrand's therapist, Buffy Wojciehowski is aware of the importance of small victories. Of his balancing exercises -practicing being able to sit unassisted, she says, "The fact that we can sit him down and let him go, that's huge. He can sit up unsupported now for a few seconds or minutes so someone can reach and grab something, like pants, and not have to worry about him falling over."


Via his Twitter page on March 27, 2012, LeGrand wrote he had "The best day of therapy so far" because he was able to sit up straight by himself for 15-minutes.

Each day, LeGrand pushes himself knowing that anything he can get back from this is a step in the right direction. LeGrand continues to see improvement in his quality of life from the NRN program. "The NRN gives me the ability to exercise," explains LeGrand, who says he is used to the daily workout regimen. "I can stay healthy and stay in shape."

Eric Smile
“I believe Christopher Reeve started something, and I’m supposed to finish it.”

"The people"
LeGrand's inspiration is simple: "The people," he says.

"When I go on my Twitter and Facebook, I see all these people saying all these nice things," recalls LeGrand, "How could I let these people down? My therapy is personal and it’s a responsibility. I have to prove to these people and show these people, if you believe in yourself and the man above, then anything is possible. And that's what I do every single day of my life."

"I have totally different thoughts now," said LeGrand, who is finishing his last year of college studying labor studies and criminal justice at Rutgers University. "I have a whole new outlook on life, and really appreciate everything. I love to smile and be the person I've always been. I always smiled every day, people just never noticed it the way they do now."

Ultimately, LeGrand follows exactly what Christopher always advocated in that 'Nothing is Impossible.' "I believe Christopher Reeve started something, and I'm supposed to finish it," said LeGrand.

Learn More
Learn all about how the Reeve Foundation NeuroRecovery Network (NRN) is developing and expanding access to activity-based therapies, resulting in improved health, quality of life, and function.

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  • Join Team Reeve
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  • Spinal Cord Injury Resource Center
  • Reeve Foundation Advocacy
Continue Christopher Reeve's LegacyPhoto by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders