SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 13, 2011 LAST UPDATED: MONDAY NOVEMBER 14, 2011, 1:41 PM
BY ANDY VASQUEZ
Saddle Brook football player Tyler Vitiello faces a long and difficult journey to recovery, his family told The Record over the weekend.
Vitiello, a senior running back, suffered a broken neck during the Falcons' regular-season finale against Glen Rock on Nov. 5.
"The outpouring of love for our child from the town has been humbling and completely overwhelming emotionally for us," Christine Vitiello, Tyler's mother, wrote in an e-mail. "Tyler has made progress. Everyone's prayers are making the difference of our son's healing in little baby steps. That's what we are taking, baby steps."
The fateful day began on a high note for the Vitiellos, who walked onto the field pregame with their son for senior day ceremonies. Less than 45 minutes later, midway through the first quarter, Vitiello suffered the injury blocking during a Saddle Brook kickoff return.
"The seconds it took to run across the field to my child hurting felt like I ran to the ends of the earth and was never getting there," Christine said. "I came upon my innocent, severely injured child screaming to me, 'I'm paralyzed.' … It was two words that are repeatedly haunting me."
Vitiello was hurried from the field by ambulance, without feeling or movement in his legs.
"His neck was broken, and he endured a spinal cord injury due to the severity of his neck injury," Christine said. "The surgery was immediate and we had not one minute to make any decisions."
After nine hours of successful emergency surgery at Hackensack University Medical Center, Vitiello had feeling and movement in all four extremities. Thankfully, he was not paralyzed.
"God saved my child, he spared him from a life of immobility for a reason and I thank God every minute of every day for the chance he gave to my son," Christine said.
On Nov. 9, Vitiello was moved to Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation in West Orange, where he'll continue his recovery for the foreseeable future.
"The doctors say it will be a very long time and many, many hours of therapy to help my son heal and to walk and regain all his functions again," Christine said. "I know my son is strong and he fights to get better every minute. He is an amazing child with such drive and determination."
Vitiello's recovery has been encouraging — he's been able to stand up with assistance. The Vitiellos were especially grateful for the support of Tyler's friends, many of whom were at a walkathon at the high school Sunday night, which Vitiello planned to watch live via Skype on the Internet. School officials said about 1,000 people, including several coaches and players from other teams, attended the event.
But by no means has this been easy.
Christine says Tyler's pain has been "constant and excruciating," as Vitiello suffers from discomfort in his neck and "pins and needles everywhere." Every second of every day is a challenge.
However, Vitiello's resolve has not wavered, nor has the belief of the Vitiellos that he will get better.
"We're here [loving] him, supporting him and getting him through just the next minute," Christine said.
"That's all we are living [for]. ... I have no idea what the future holds for his treatment or how long it will take but I can promise you [we] will do anything, anything for Tyler."