PHILADELPHIA, Pa. -- The last time our cameras were on Jaden Leiby, he was putting on a show. In a big game against Pottsville on October 25, the North Schuylkill High School football star ran for more than 130 yards and three touchdowns in the first half alone. But then in the third quarter, his life changed forever while making a tackle on defense.
"It was just a hit like I always hit people, but there was something different about it, and as soon I hit him, that was it. I couldn't move my lower half. My arms and stuff were good, and I didn't move my neck at all, because I was super scared. I didn't feel one ounce of pain the whole time. It's surprising, but yeah, a lot of shock," Jaden recalled.
Jaden's life is now a bit different. Instead of scoring touchdowns and living the life of a normal teenager, he's fighting for normalcy and strength.
"When I got here, I wasn't doing as well as I wanted to be doing. But as every day went by and just seeing the positive thoughts of the day and stuff like that, I got so much better with my attitude. The love and support that I'm getting helps so much, too, with that stuff. I'm pretty positive."
After the injury, Jaden was flown to Lehigh Valley Hospital-Cedar Crest. There he underwent emergency surgery to repair a broken neck. And since November 11, he's been rehabbing at Magee Rehabilitation Hospital in Philadelphia.
"I think it was a little tough in the beginning. He was sleepy, still on the ventilator, but you could still see that drive shining through, like he was willing to put in the work and try each day," said occupational therapist Jacquie O'Hara.
And each day can get long and taxing. They consist of about three hours total of physical and occupational therapy four or five times a week to build up and improve his strength, especially on the right side of his body. He also does some recreational therapy and works with the rehab center's facility dog Nigel.
"In the case of Jaden, we're working a lot on his balance, trunk control, upper extremity strength. So I've trained Nigel to work on pushing patients to kind of work on keeping their balance," explained occupational therapist Peter DeLong.
On his road to recovery, Jaden has leaned heavily on a quote from retired Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell. It reads, "No matter how much it hurts, how dark it gets, or how hard you fall, you are never out of the fight."
"He's never said no to me about anything. He's always ready to go. He's never late to therapy. He never has excuses for anything. He's always 100 percent there, 100 percent ready to go and willing to do anything you ask of him," said occupational therapist Stephanie Zaleski. "He's probably one of the most motivated patients I've ever had the pleasure of working with."
"As soon as I hit that first therapy, knowing that if I do this right and if I do that right, I'll eventually be able to get back up and that's the main goal, is to stand back up, walk around, and that's what I think about every day. I just want to be able to walk here, walk there, drive my car. Every day I wake up, that's what I think about," Jaden added.