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MIPEC Speaker: ‘I Am so Much More’

Zoe LaPorte, Reporter

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Old Forge resident Kiel Eigen offered a story of hope and healing to  students in Lemmond Theater  Feb. 22.

Eigen, who suffered a vertebrae injury during his first high school football game, addressed his childhood, his injury and his life afterwards.

Gina Capitano, Assistant Professor of Medical Imaging, in association with Misericordia’s Interprofessional Education Connection, opened Eigen’s presentation.

Capitano noted that Eigen was an exceptional athlete who  spent 13 days in an Intensive Care Unit, 47 days hospitalized, and then two years in therapy. Despite this, he graduated from high school on time and then graduated from King’s College in 2015.

Capitano she and her family are Eigen’s neighbors, and her son played football with him. She said she “remembers that night” when Eigen was injured, and how he has continued to stay positive and live life to the fullest.

Eigen began his speech by explaining that Old Forge is a “close, tight knit” community. He said he acquired a strong work ethic from the community.

He said he was competitive from a young age, and that sense of competition continued to high school football in seventh grade.

At a game on September 12, 2006, when Eigen was 14 years old, he said he knew the opposing team was on a losing streak and that the crowd was full of of supportive fans.

An opposing player hit him.

He recalled that he couldn’t get up while the other player did. He felt pins and needles in his lower body.

He said he did not fully understand what was happening as he was flown to Thomas Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia. Doctors told him that he had a broken neck, but he figured he would wear a neck brace to school the next day.

But Eigen was bleeding internally. He spent 13 days in an Intensive Care Unit where he received a lot of visitors who helped keep his spirits up.

He was moved to Geisinger Community Medical Care in Scranton where he underwent occupational therapy and physical therapy. There, he focused on keeping up with his school work with the help of staff from his high school and the outpouring support from friends, family and even strangers.

Eigen said it was hard to cope with being paralyzed. Before his discharge he thought, “I have to take this with me?” in reference to his wheelchair.

His love of sports continued and he attended his high school football games and practices while he did physical therapy at Allied Rehabilitation Hospital in Scranton.

“Support was crucial and pivotal to my success,” Eigen said as he remembered the nurses, staff, doctors, family and friends who wanted him to succeed.

During his senior football night, he was able to walk in front of the sold-out crowd. He described it as an “incredible night.” It was almost impossible for him to walk, but he “treated it as a sport, as his opponent,” he said.

Eigen now works with Quantum Rehabilitation as a spokesperson who travels to share his story, especially about the support he received from family, friends and his rehabilitation team. He believes in “paying it forward” to help make wheelchairs and products accessible to those in need.

Eigen said he was a “name instead of a number” during his treatment and said, “I’m happy this happened in such a small town.”

Eigen remains positive and wants to spread his message. “Yeah, I’m the kid that got hurt playing football but I am so much more.”

The presentation was well attended by students – especially those in health sciences majors.

Sophomore education Major Patrick Joyce found the talk effective, “because it gives students an opportunity to learn about a topic that they are studying instead of just reading it in a book or listening to a professor lecture.”

Laurie Brogan, Assistant Professor of Physical Therapy and an event organizer, said she believes that these types of presentations are especially powerful.

“I think it is important for us to connect real life experiences with what we teach in the classroom.”

Brogan added that holding them is an important goals.

“One of the goals of  MIPEC is to provide opportunities for students to see the benefit of strong personal support and a coordinated healthcare team and the impact it can have on one’s outcome and quality of life.”

Brogan added that the presentation enabled health science majors to see implications regarding their profession, and all students could learn about how others overcome challenge. “[Eigen] has overcome a major obstacle in his life. He had choices to make that would impact his future and he chose to be positive and move forward.”

MIPEC members hope to bring in more guests who can inspire students.

Capitano said MIPEC “engages community and faculty in education.”

Brogan believes that Eigen’s story “resonates with everyone who takes the time to hear him speak. Despite major obstacles, there is always light. We all need to be reminded of that from time to time.”

 

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MIPEC Speaker: ‘I Am so Much More’