Less than two months ago, family and friends of Tyler Vitiello, a Saddle Brook high school senior and football team captain, worried that he may not walk again. Since then, he has defied the odds and surprised medical professionals with his remarkable recovery – credited in large part to the medical staff at Hackensack University Medical Center.
On November 5, Vitiello was involved in a helmet-to-helmet collision during a football game against Glen Rock, which resulted in a broken neck. Directly following his collision, he lost any feeling or movement in his legs. It was at this point when family members and spectators began to worry that Vitiello may be paralyzed. He was quickly rushed to HackensackUMC, where Dante Implicito, M.D., chief of Spine, Department of Orthopaedic Surgery and Daniel Walzman, M.D., chief of Endovascular Neurosurgery, began a nine-hour emergency surgery.
“When Tyler got to the hospital, he was suffering from a fractured dislocation of the spine with contusion of the spinal cord. The surgery was able to realign and stabilize his highly unstable neck injury,” said Dr. Implicito. “We were fortunate in that his injury was considered an ‘incomplete’ injury, meaning that if treated correctly and timely, the injury could potentially be repaired or minimized. It gave our team the opportunity to provide the best care for Tyler to reduce the damage done by the collision.”
Dr. Walzman agreed, “When a patient comes in, there is a combination of factors that may affect the outcome of a surgery. The age and physical health of the patient as well as the actual degree of injury will all help to determine the patient’s recovery. So far, Tyler has shown excellent progress.”
Three days after surgery, Vitiello was transferred to Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation in West Orange, and last week he was able to return home. “When Tyler was first operated on, we never imagined that he would be home with us already,” said Vitiello’s mother, Christine. “But because of the amazing doctors and medical staff at HackensackUMC, we will get to spend the holidays together at home.”
She continued, “I was obviously terrified when we brought Tyler to the hospital, and my husband Tim and I had to trust these surgeons blindly with our son’s life. During the surgery, I kept asking myself if we made the right choice, and I am certain we did. The entire surgical team was so knowledgeable and positive, and I felt confident in their abilities. They saved my son’s life. There are no words to describe our gratitude.”
Vitiello’s recovery will be a long process, but medical providers, family and friends are stunned at the progress he has made already. He attends physical and occupational therapy sessions three times per week as an outpatient at Kessler Institute in Saddle Brook. Not only is Vitiello walking again, but he is also able to walk up and down stairs - representing significant progress for an injury of his kind.
"This was the best possible scenario for patients that we see with this type of injury,” noted Dr. Walzman.
“The fact that Tyler has come so far so quickly is exceptional,” said Dr. Implicito. “He is a terrific young man, and we were fortunate that he was in such great shape to begin with and were able to treat him in a timely manner. We are all extremely optimistic for the future of his recovery.”
Since his surgery, Vitiello has maintained contact with staff from HackensackUMC. “From the minute we walked in to this very day, we have experienced nothing but superior care and support from the team at HackensackUMC. We speak with our physicians regularly and the outpouring of support from the medical staff and community has been overwhelming. Tyler’s injury could have been a lot worse with more catastrophic consequences, so we are grateful everyday for these life-saving professionals. They always remained positive and reassured Tyler that he would walk again. That reinforcement has had a lot to do with Tyler’s positive attitude and incredible recovery,” said Christine.
Christine says that Vitiello is being home-schooled with the intention of graduating on time this June. He would like to become an athletic trainer and one day inspire other athletes. For now, the family will take it day-by-day, but are very grateful that Vitiello was able to return home to celebrate the holiday season.