Paralyzed Rutgers Player Eric LeGrand Overcoming the Odds

PHOTO: Paralyzed Rutgers football player Eric LeGrand, right, and his mother, Karen LeGrand, leave the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation in West Orange, N.J., Oct. 12, 2011.
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Eric LeGrand's football career was over in a second ... the second he tackled Malcolm Brown on a kick return at New Jersey's Meadowlands Stadium last October.

Watch LeGrand's Interview with ESPN's Tom Rinaldi Here

"I fell to the ground and my body just went, 'ding,'" he said. "That's all I hear, like my bell was ringing and I -- my body was stuck ... I try to get up but I couldn't."

He couldn't get up because he had broken his neck. LeGrand's mother, Karen LeGrand, was in the stands and said she knew instantly that something was wrong.

"I've never seen Eric go down in all of his years playing football," she said. "He's never been down. That was the first time I've ever seen him actually go down and not get back up again."

Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano ran to his player's side.

"I just knew something was wrong, and on my way out there [I was] just quickly thinking, 'Please, let him be knocked out, Lord,'" he said. "You could see he wasn't moving, and I knew it wasn't good."

Not only could LeGrand not move his body, but he struggled to breathe.

"I was like, 'Can I pass out? I may die here,'" he said. "Fear of death, that's the biggest fear that I got because I couldn't breathe the way I was breathing and I couldn't move. ... Laying out on the ground, motionless, not being able to breathe was the hardest part in thinking: Can I die here?"

For seven minutes, his family watched helplessly as trainers tried to help.

"You see all these people working on your son and he's laying there, and you're standing there, totally helpless," Karen LeGrand said. "That's how I felt. I felt totally helpless, like there's nothing that I can do right now to help him."

His body and head were immobilized as he was taken off the field -- but LeGrand still tried to give the crowd a thumbs up to show that he would be alright.

"When I tried to put the thumbs up, you know when you get carted out, I couldn't do it," he said.

"I was like, 'It's not going; it feels like there is 1,000 pounds holding it down and it won't move,'" he said. "That's what all this feels like, basically. When you try to move, there's 1,000 pounds on you and you can't move it."

LeGrand fractured his C-3 and C-4 vertebrae and, that night, underwent nine hours of emergency surgery to stabilize his spine. At 22, he was paralyzed from the neck down. Doctors gave him a zero to 5 percent chance of regaining neurologic function -- a prognosis his mother never told him.

"I didn't want to hear that 2 percent of the people with this injury can walk, or 5 percent regain this, or I didn't want to hear about the percentages because my son, in all honesty, is not a percentage," Karen LeGrand said. "My son is my son ... and nobody knows him, nobody knows the will he has, nobody knows the faith that we have."

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