Hayden's Journey: A Laurel H.S. football player's road to recove - WFMJ.com News weather sports for Youngstown-Warren Ohio

Hayden's Journey: A Laurel H.S. football player's road to recovery from spinal injury

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PITTSBURGH -

Over the past month, the Lawrence County community has rallied behind a young man who continues to show positivity and determination, despite a crushing injury on the field. 

For Hayden Hamilton, August 31st began as almost any other typical Friday night under the lights. Laurel High School was taking on Rochester that night. 

"Their offense was tough, their defense was tougher. We were just trying to hold our own," Hayden said. 

But in the third quarter, the night turned into anything but typical. 

"It doesn't even look like that bad of a hit on film," Hayden said, explaining the hit. "I got pushed just a little and like fell into the player's knee. His knee like hit my head and my head just went." 

That hit left Hayden lying motionless on the field. 

He says at first he didn't think anything of it. "I was joking around because I didn't think anything was wrong, and then I was like, 'Oh, I can't feel anything. That's not good.'" 

The hit had fractured vertebrae in Hayden's spine leaving him unable to move his body. 

"I was face down so I couldn't see what was happening, and they just kept telling me to wiggle my toes and I couldn't," he said. "The hard parts when I saw everything. Like when they flipped me over. When I saw how many people were around me and how worried they were." 

Hayden said the stillness of the moment was shocking. 

"There wasn't a noise. No one talked. That was the hard part," he said. 

Hamilton was immediately flown to Pittsburgh Children's Hospital where he underwent surgery to repair his spine. Surgeons operated on both sides of Hayden's neck in back-to-back procedures, implanting hardware to keep Hayden's neck stable. 

Since then Hayden has been moved to the Children's Hospital Rehabilitation Unit (CHRU), the pediatric acute inpatient rehabilitation unit of UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh.

He's undergoing both occupational therapy and physical therapy routines to help him regain strength. 

"OT is basically just like what you do on an everyday basis like get dressed and stuff like that. Brush your teeth, get showers. PT we do all like balancing and like getting into chairs," he said. 

Since being hospitalized, Hayden has received an outpouring of support from the community, including from several professional athletes like Geno Stone, a New Castle standout now playing for Iowa, Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins, and Steelers Lineback Ryan Shazier who suffered a similar injury. 

Shazier had some words of encouragement for the teen. 

"I don't really remember a lot of that first call because it was early and I was still in the ICU. But I remember him saying the doctors told him he wouldn't walk again either. Stuff like that, don't listen to them, set your own goals," Hayden said. 

And though Hayden knows the road to recovery is long, he's looking forward to the future. 

"I know what I have to do. Like what the chances are and stuff. I'm pretty realistic, but I'm also really optimistic too," he said. 

Despite the injury and the rehabilitation process, the honor's student is continuing schoolwork. Hayden says he plans to continue taking three honors courses with the help of teachers. one of whom even offered to travel to Pittsburgh once a week to help him.

He's also keeping up a habit of making those around him smile; dancing in his bed, sporting funny wigs and being a jokester in general. 

Hayden says he's hopeful to be home by the end of November. He said he most excited to see his dogs. 

But in the meantime, he can't thank everyone enough for their support;, organizing fundraisers, vigils, and coming to see him. Its support that his parents say has let them give their undivided attention to Hayden, rather than having to juggle work and other responsibilities. 

"Thank you. I couldn't even express how much that means. It's crazy how much the community has come together," he said. 

It's just one more reason for the determined teen to keep his positive spirit. 

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