HACKENSACK, NJ -- Eric LeGrand, the former Rutgers football player who suffered a paralyzing spinal cord injury on the field, returned to the hospital where he was treated Monday to meet with the medical team responsible for saving his life.
He recounted the darkest days of his injury, which he also calls his best days.
"You know it's crazy to say," said LeGrand. "It was a rough time, but it was one of my best times because it jump started everything to where I am today."
LeGrand has spent the past eight years inspiring others to overcome seeming insurmountable odds. He speaks to young people and advocates for others with spinal cord injuries.
He’s received numerous honors and awards, including induction to the New Jersey hall of fame.
LeGrand received a warm welcome and a standing ovation at HackensackUMC from the medical staff who treated him eight years ago.
Caregivers recalled how LeGrand clung to a positive attitude after nine hours of surgery and a devastating prognosis.
LeGrand was a defensive tackle for Rutgers. He went down after a play at MetLife Stadium on Oct. 16, 2010 and never got up.
"The attitude is so much, you know, a part of this. If a patient comes in with the right attitude and has the support that he has, then they stand a chance of recovering and living a life," said Dr. Roy Vingan, vice chair of neurosurgery at HackensackUMC.
LeGrand remembers his friends, family and the medical staff at HUMC who lifted his spirits. He lit up when recalling his experience with one caregiver in particular — an occupational therapist in the ICU named Lillian Negron-Vazquez.
"I remember I was pretty much laying on my deathbed," said LeGrand. "And she comes in like a ball of fire, like alright we're going to get this guy to start stretching, moving around. We're not going to let him feel bad about himself."
"You know he never gave up. He always smiled," said Negron-Vazquez. "It's an inspiration."
LeGrand has since regained the use of his shoulders and he can feel sensation throughout his body.
"Everyone is going to go through some type of adversity, it's how you handle it that is what ultimately defines you," said LeGrand.