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Over 1000 people come out to pray for Tyler

Saddle Brook football player recovering positively after emergency surgery to fix 'serious neck injury'

11/07/2011, 6:45am EST
By Jackie Friedman/Star Ledger



Saddle Brook football player recovering positively after emergency surgery to fix 'serious neck injury'

Published: Monday, November 07, 2011, 9:05 PM     Updated: Monday, November 07, 2011, 9:06 PM

Saddle Brook High football player Tyler Vitiello is having a positive recovery from surgery after suffering a “serious neck injury” and having left the field without feeling in his legs Saturday during his team’s final regular-season game.

“He’s moving his legs, arms and feet and he’s getting better,” Saddle Brook athletic director Chris Ianneillo said. “He’s breathing on his own, talking, cracking jokes, asking questions. He’s on top of it. He knows what’s going on.”

Vitiello, a senior and team captain, sustained the neck injury during the first quarter of Saddle Brook’s 38-7 win against Glen Rock Saturday during a kickoff return in which he was going to make a block. The severity of the injury was not immediately known, but Vitiello could not feel or move the bottom half of his body, as coaches and teammates were concerned he may be paralyzed.

“The array of emotions the kids went through with seeing their teammate go down, the kids persevered, played the game out,” Ianneillo said. “Leaving the field after that game was a very tough situation for all our kids.”

It is believed Vitiello will walk again; Saddle Brook football coach Leo Ciappina said doctors were hoping to stand him up and have him try walking midweek.

Ciappina said Vitiello was the type of player who led by example with a tenacious work ethic and a desire to teach the younger players. He said Vitiello was getting looks from colleges to play at the next level, though he didn’t know where.

“He was a fullback, and he ran the ball hard; he was a tough kid to take down,” Ciappina said. “He was also a defensive end, very hard to block, and it was very hard to keep him from making plays. He was just all over the field getting pressure on the quarterback. It was very tough to get around him, a very physical dominating player.”

On his public profile on, Vitiello lists athletic training as a potential college major and adds, “I have been playing football since the age of 5.I Love the game and one day hope to play in college. I have the determination to do whatever it takes to succeed at my goals. I currently have straight A’s and work and study hard every day at my academics.”

Ciappina did not have a clear view of the play that injured Vitiello, but said Vitiello was trying to make a block as a Saddle Brook kick returner tried to run the ball out. A Glen Rock player was “coming full speed. He kind of lowered his head, and they just hit each other real hard. I think it was helmet-to-helmet,” Ciappina said.

Vitiello was immediately treated on the field, placed on a stretcher and then brought in an ambulance to Hackensack University Medical Center where he was in surgery until 2:30 a.m. Ianneillo said the family called around 6:30 a.m. Sunday to say the surgery had been successful.

The community rallied together, filling Saddle Brook’s St. Philip Church Sunday morning to pray for Vitiello. They have scheduled a walkathon for this upcoming Saturday to raise money for the family’s medical costs, Ianneillo said. The cheerleaders are also doing a wristband fundraiser, and the football team is purchasing stickers for their helmets.

“Anything to keep him in our thoughts until he’s 100 percent better,” Ciappina said.
Added Ianneillo: “People step up. They say adversity brings out the best in people. That’s definitely holding true.”

The next step is for Vitiello to be moved to the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation in West Orange, where Rutgers football player Eric LeGrand was treated after his spinal cord injury in October 2010. Ciappina said he expects Vitiello will be in the hospital “at least another week.”

Saddle Brook (9-0) begins play in the North Jersey 1, Group 1 football playoffs Saturday at 1 p.m. at Mountain Lakes (8-1).

“(His teammates) now realizing that he’s doing better, and hearing the positive that he’ll be able to walk again is helping them get through this,” Ciappina said. “At least it’s going the right direction: it’s getting better, it’s not getting worse. The team’s morale is beginning to rise again.

“Talking to (Vitiello), he wants us to go out there and work hard and go beat Mountain Lakes this weekend.”

Jackie Friedman:


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