Freshman defensive back Ben M. Abercrombie ’21 returned to his family’s house in Hoover, Ala., on Monday, his first time home since suffering a major neck injury in a football game four months ago that left him paralyzed and unable to breathe on his own.
Abercrombie sustained the injury in a game against Rhode Island in Sept. 2017; he underwent emergency surgery at Rhode Island Hospital immediately afterwards. A couple weeks later, Abercrombie transferred to the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, Ga., where he has spent the past three months working on rehabilitation and physical therapy.
On Monday, friends and family gathered with balloons to welcome Abercrombie home. Local press and Hoover Police also turned out to greet the defensive back; at least one police car escorted him to the house. Abercrombie, seated in a wheelchair, smiled as he was lowered onto the driveway, according to video recorded by Boston25 News.
Speaking to reporters in front of his house Monday, Abercrombie said he was excited to be back in Hoover.
“I can't wait to get inside,” Abercrombie told Boston25 News.
But Abercrombie has already set his sights on a bigger goal: Returning to campus next fall to continue studying economics.
“I’m just trying to recover and when I get back I’ll be able to move my life forward and move on from the injury and everything,” Abercrombie said in an interview Saturday.
Though Abercrombie still has months of recovery in front of him, family members say they are hopeful given the improvement he has made in recent weeks. On Jan. 5, Abercrombie’s father Marty wrote about Ben’s progress in a post on the public blog he started to keep his son’s supporters updated.
“Over the course of the last few weeks, Ben has indicated he can feel some changes happening in his body. He can feel sensations particularly in his upper chest and upper back that he was not able to feel before,” Abercrombie wrote in the blog post. “Another positive development is that Ben has begun to initiate more breaths.”
Though Abercrombie will certainly face challenges in returning to campus, he said Saturday that he feels overall optimistic.
“Learning how to do math without hands is probably going to be the hardest part. And I guess moving around is going to be a little difficult, especially in the snow,” Abercrombie said. “But other than that, nothing, I think I’ll be alright.”
Both Harvard students and administrators have worked to help the Abercrombie family navigate the challenges posed by Ben’s injuries over the past four months.
The Harvard Varsity Club in early October started The Benson M. Abercrombie ’21 Fund, a fund meant to help the Abercrombie family afford expensive medical procedures. The fund will also assist any athlete who suffers “catastrophic injuries” while playing for Harvard going forward. As of Dec. 2017, the trust had garnered over $266,000.
Bob Glatz ’88, the executive director of the Varsity Club, wrote in an emailed statement Jan. 10 that the entire club was happy to hear Abercrombie had returned home. Glatz promised club members will continue to support the freshman and his family throughout his recovery.
“I was thrilled to hear that Ben returned home to Hoover, AL. The outpouring of support from the entire Harvard community these past 3-4 months has been inspiring,” Glatz wrote. "We realize there’s still a long way to go before Ben will be able to accomplish his goal of returning to classes at Harvard, but the Varsity Club will be there for him throughout the entire journey.”
A number of organizations have held fundraisers for the family since Abercrombie’s injury, including El Jefe’s Taqueria and Wing Zone, a chain of which Abercrombie’s father Marty is a franchise owner.
Abercrombie said in the interview Saturday that he feels grateful to everyone who has supported him over recent weeks. In particular, he thanked El Jefe’s, which donated all the proceeds from its Dec. 12 event—totaling roughly $27,000—to the Abercrombie fund.
“I’m grateful for all the support that the Harvard community has given me,” Abercrombie said. “I can’t wait to eat at El Jefe’s again. After what they’ve done for me too, it just makes the food even better.”
—Staff writer Madeleine R. Nakada can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @MaddyNakada.
—Staff writer Jack Stockless contributed reporting.
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