NBC New York
There's a significant development in the rehab of paralyzed Rutgers football player Eric LeGrand. New Jersey reporter Brian Thompson has an exclusive report.
Former Rutgers football star Eric LeGrand, paralyzed from below his neck in the Army game in October of 2010, is now able to sit upright for as long as 23 seconds.
It is a milestone in his physical therapy at the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation in West Orange, N.J. where he has been working out since early summer.
While he cannot actually lift himself into the sitting position -- that has to be done by his physical therapists -- through balance and willpower he has been able to hold the upright position day after day for the past week.
"It really is like a strain, my shoulders and my neck, I get a knot in them," LeGrand said in an exclusive interview with NBC New York.
His therapist, Buffy Wojciehowski, said the immediate payoff will be that his caregivers will have an easier time of dressing him, for example, if he can stay in an upright seated position by himself.
But she also said it could also be a key step in trying to excite the nerves that have been paralyzed for more than a year.
"We have small twitches in his back muscle," Wojciehowski said. "We're just trying to strengthen his postural muscles as much as we possibly can."
The effort to excite the nerves to his body also includes an hour on a treadmill, with LeGrand put into a harness that keeps him suspended with his feet just reaching the conveyor belt.
Therapists like Lindsay McIntyre then take positions on both legs, and physically lift them in a walking motion.
This also has two purposes; to circulate his blood so he can do the sitting exercise without getting dizzy, and to see if his nerves can be stimulated.
Asked if he can actually feel anything yet, he gave what he admitted was a weird answer.
"I feel like a sensation is going down, that a signal is trying to get down," LeGrand said. "But it's not getting down to physically do it myself."
LeGrand, who has been doing radio play-by-play for Rutgers, expects to graduate next fall.
Before that, he is hoping to get to Denver on Jan. 1 to see his beloved Broncos in the last game of the regular season. LeGrand said it is a trip that is "90 percent certain."
Follow Brian Thompson on Twitter @brian4NY