Graduation was a big moment for Saddle Brook’s Tyler Vitiello. Not just because of the diploma, but because he could walk up to get it.
Paralyzed with a broken neck after a collision on the football field in November, Vitiello, 17, continues to take steps on his road to recovery.
“I am happy to walk at graduation, I didn’t think I would be walking,” said Vitiello. “I thought I might have to be wheeled out. It was a great four years. I wouldn’t change a thing ... even with what happened.”
Vitiello’s injury rallied a town’s support and #staystrong34 became a popular Twitter hashtag and catchphrase for the Falcons football team in the playoffs.
Today there is a website: tylerstaystrong34.com where one can see highlights of Vitiello’s football career and donate to the trust fund to help pay his medical bills.
Vitiello was walking two weeks after the accident and returned to school in April for half-days. He still experiences some numbing sensations in his hands and feet and is bummed that he won’t be able to partake in some summer fun activities down the shore.
“It’s not all healed yet, it’s still fusing,” said Vitiello. “I thought it would be like a broken arm and would heal a lot quicker. I knew it would be messed up for a while, but didn’t know it would be this long.”
Vitiello said he was going to have an X-ray soon to check on his neck’s progress. He also needs to have more surgery to close up his scar that has expanded.
Despite those obstacles, Vitiello has steadfastly maintained his long hair, sense of humor and positive outlook. He’s going to attend Montclair State University with plans to be an athletic trainer and a dream of working for a professional sports team. He would bring unique insights to any other athlete who suffers a similar injury.
“I understand that, it’s life, everything happens for a reason, you just have to go with it,” said Vitiello.