By Nick Carson
His progress is slow but sure. According to Pray for Jackie, a blog established by Jackie Lithgow’s family, the Bloomsburg University student has come a long way from the medically induced coma he was initially placed in. He is “consistently hungry when he wakes up and his swallowing function improves with each day.” He has made great strides towards normalcy, even in something as simple as recognizing the color of a pen and doing basic multiplication problems. He is also learning cell phone skills and participating in physical therapy.
Lithgow was left in a medically induced coma with a significant portion of his skull removed after a February frat house brawl involving former KU football players Angel Cruz and Justin Wieder. KU students Eric Condron and Jake Wygant were also initially thought to be involved in the altercation, but have since been cleared of any wrongdoing. Eight months later, the Lithgow family uses their blog to provide updates on his continuing recovery.
“The blog has been an amazing source of therapy for my mom and the community,” said Lindsay Lithgow, Jackie’s sister, while discussing how big of an impact public support has had on her family. The Lithgow family has received multiple forms of support, through comments on websites to a gofundme page to raise money.
Jackie has even received attention from the Philadelphia Flyers, his favorite hockey team, who held a special meeting with the Lithgow family at the Wells Fargo Center.
“The local community papers and websites, plus campus articles, have all helped tremendously in the awareness of his situation,” Lindsay said.
Jackie’s story has seen a recent surge in attention due to the fact that Cruz, the former player who threw the punch that injured Lithgow, pled guilty to simple assault on Monday, Nov. 10. As reported by BloomUToday, District Attorney Tom Leipold has vowed to seek the maximum punishment in Cruz’s plea.
According to FindLaw.com, a simple assault charge in Pennsylvania lacks the evidence of an “extreme indifference to human life” that an aggravated assault charge carries. In that lack of evidence for an aggravated assault charge, Cruz escaped a possible 10-20 years in prison.
According to BloomUToday, Cruz told Judge Gary Norton that “things got out of hand” the night of the brawl. On that night Cruz posted a tweet, which has since been deleted, which read, “Everybody dies someday.”
Another former KU football player, Justin Wieder, is at home awaiting trial on simple assault charges after posting $100,000 cash bail. According to The Sentinel, witnesses say Wieder started the brawl and injured Donald Hoover, by kicking him in the head. Lindsay expressed the “bittersweet” feeling her family has about Cruz’s guilty plea.
“Even if it ended up not being as long of a sentence as I would have hoped for in this case, I think it is the best possible outcome. It was a senseless act of violence that should never have happened and I hope this is the last time it does. The closure this brings of that horrific night is beyond words and it is such a relief to close the door on that chapter. Now we can truly focus on moving forward,” Lindsay said.
“At one point we were told that he may wake up and not remember our names or who we were,” she said. “That he could easily disappear into a different personality than the Jackie we knew before. Now, he has run through hell and back and somehow has managed to keep his sense of humor, sarcastic remarks that only a sister and friends could love, plus a new laughter that is so contagious that you can’t help but smile next to him.”
The family has often described the eight months since the February brawl as a marathon, due to the fact that Jackie’s long recovery is more of a marathon than a sprint.
Lindsay also said that she is proud of Jackie and her entire family for never letting negativity win in such a terrible situation.
“It’s so hard to see your little brother struggle to do everyday tasks that we all take for granted, and in moments like that it’s very hard to stay true to a positive outlook on everything, but in the end it has absolutely helped hold us together,” Lindsay said.
She also pointed out that it has been a struggle to balance the positivity with the grieving of losing her brother as the person he was before his injuries, but she said it is for Jackie that she learned to love the “little happy triumphs more than wallowing in the surprise sinkholes of recovery.”
The entire Lithgow family remain positive that despite the long marathon, Jackie will return to as normal of a life as possible.
“He’ll go back to college one day, he’ll fall in love, he’ll have a family and he’ll be a part of the world like everyone else. It’s just going to take him a little longer to get there,” Lindsay said.