At today’s Thanksgiving Day Football Game you may notice one player, Amity co-captain Eric Laugeni #70 step away from his teammates after the National Anthem, take a knee on the field and bow his head for a few moments.
This has been a ritual for the Senior, who turned 17 on Tuesday. He is not praying for a win, but thanking God for giving him the opportunity to play the game that he’s loved since he was little.
The road to high school football was filled with uncertainty, beginning with one life changing moment on August 1, 2008, when Eric, then a sixth grader, was just 11 years old. It was opening day of the Amity Pop Warner Football Season and Eric was helping his father pick up safety cones. He was standing behind his father’s truck, when the cable on a fork lift that was being loaded onto a truck behind him, snapped, sending the 15,000 lb. forklift careening down and pinning the boy against the truck, crushing him from the chest down, making an indentation in the back of the truck.
Eric’s left leg was severed and his right leg was broken and dislocated.
His father rushed to his side and laid him down on the pavement and stayed with him, making sure he remained conscious until the paramedics arrived. In the ambulance, one of the EMTs said they would have to amputate the leg, which aggravated his father to no end, Eric was crying, his future uncertain.
Once at Yale-New Haven Hospital, the Laugenis were told that he would have to have surgery within 6 hours because of the risk of infection with the sand and dirt inside his open leg.
After 8 hours of surgery, the doctors said, “He’s alive. We saved the leg, but he will never run again and he’ll always have a terrible limp.”
Eric spent 8 days in the hospital with his left leg fully casted from the hip down. The broken right leg was braced, but no surgery was done on it.
On August 9, the Laugeni’s living room became a makeshift hospital room for Eric with a hospital bed and visiting physical therapists.
He couldn’t use either leg, and had to use a wheelchair to get around.
A couple of additional surgeries were done and then regular therapy at Rehab Associates.
Prior to the accident, Eric had been trying to get into shape, lost 20 lbs. and was training for the Woodbridge Roadrace. He was determined to compete in the 5k, but how could he do that without the use of his legs?
Longtime Amity residents will recall the victorious photo that I ran in the Amity Observer newspaper of several friends pushing Eric in a wheelchair in the pouring rain as they approached the finish line.
During physical therapy, even as he began to walk by himself, Eric’s mom was a driving force behind his recovery. She would not let him slack off and pushed him to try as hard as he could to regain the full use of his legs (without a limp).
Some doctors suggested he take up swimming because he would never be able to do anything else. His mother was disgusted. “How can you even think of telling an 11-year-old that?”
Eric was a member of a travel basketball team at the time of the accident and his coach, Scott Hurwitz figured out a way for him to play. He spoke with the team and all opposing teams and arranged it so Eric would shoot all the foul shots for his team, therefore being an active team member, even if he couldn’t run the court.
Still, Eric wanted to play football. He worked hard to recover, sat out one season then the following year, he was back on the field again.
As a 7th grader at Amity Middle School, Eric was fully casted and had tutors for 3 months and therapy.
Eric is thankful for all that he is able to do. The doctor who said he should never play football again, just inspired him to work hard and prove the doc wrong.
Dr. Jim Ronai, who works on many difficult cases, knew Eric had a long battle ahead, but never discouraged him from living his dream. For this Eric is grateful.
Daily Pain and More Surgery
The accident shattered a growth plate in his left leg, so it did not grow normally afterward. His leg is 3/4-inch “off.” He goes to New York to the Hospital For Special Surgery where Dr. S. Robert Rozbruch is prepared to lengthen Eric’s femur whenever he is ready to take time off for the surgery and rehab. This could be during his college years or after, but it is better done while he is young.
Eric has chronic back and knee pain, and often it takes a while to climb out of bed. But football is his life and today, when he takes a knee after the National Anthem, take a moment to join Eric in his prayer giving thanks for the second chance on life he’s been given.