FOUNTAIN SPRINGS, SCHUYLKILL COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — Football can be a physically punishing sport that comes with a risk of injury. For one former, local, high school football star, his injury proved to be life altering.
20-year-old Jaden Leiby was a two-way star on the 2019 North Schuylkill Spartans football team. The devastating injury he suffered on the field is something he continues fighting to overcome.
Five days a week, several hours a day, the basement apartment where 20-year-old Jaden Leiby lives becomes his personal therapy center.
The two people working with him have worked with North Schuylkill School District where Leiby demonstrated his football prowess in an October 25, 2019 championship game against Pottsville.
He scored three touchdowns before a seven second play on defense changed his life. The tackle caused paralysis in Leiby’s arms and legs. A hush fell over the football stadium.
“I knew I didn’t feel anything and I knew that… well, I didn’t know what was exactly wrong but I knew that something was,” said Jaden Leiby.
Leiby suffered a fracture of the C7 vertebrae at the base of his neck.
“It’s basically the communication for your arms, your hands, your trunk, your feet, your legs, sensation. You know, it’s a very serious injury,” said Joe Halko, Leiby’s Physical Therapist
Surgery stabilized his neck, but the injury left him quadriplegic. Months of in-patient therapy followed at Magee Rehabilitation Hospital in Philadelphia, each session reminding him of the abilities he lost on the football field that fateful night.
“And I knew that I should probably like I probably needed to step up my game, I’ve got to be perfect,” stated Leiby.
An arm he was unable to use after surgery can now support a hand weight.
“I was told I’d never get, like, a tricep or a forearm or anything again and here we are, so,” said Leiby.
The grit Leiby once demonstrated on the gridiron helps power him through each day. Twice a week, he’s at Honecker Lifestyle Fitness Rehab Gym in Bloomsburg.
He credits a support system to keep him motivated including his girlfriend, his family and his four-month-old Berne doodle named Ackley that he’s having trained to become his service dog.
Leiby has overcome so much in the nearly two years since suffering his crippling injury. Adopting the motto on his wall he wakes to every day, he is “Never out of the fight”.
“Every time, like, we work he just picks up a little bit better. You know, it’s been small increments but it’s still been amazing considering where he was to where he is today,” stated Halko.
Leiby vows to keep rising to the challenge until the day he can walk, “So, I’m going to do that no matter what they say.”
Until a breakthrough treatment might become possible, Leiby will continue his existing therapy, plan his future, and inspire those he meets along the way.