Thirteen months ago, the Lions ended their association with running back Jerome Harrison and traded him to the Eagles for Ronnie Brown. At the time, with two journeyman running backs switching teams, the impact each could have made on his new club probably would have been minimal.
The impact on Harrison's existence, though, was life-altering. That's because, during his physical, Philadelphia trainers discovered a brain tumor, and it's safe to say that, unless he had been traded, nobody would have known about it.
On Thursday, The NFL Today on CBS produced a fantastic Thanksgiving piece on Harrison and his wife, Michelle, and how his family is dealing with life today after that harrowing experience.
“It was a basic physical,” Harrison said. “They tell you to cough, turn your head, touch your toes, all that good stuff. The [doctor] looked at my eyes. He said, ‘Whoa.' He showed me the papers, and he said, ‘You see the white thing?' ‘Yeah.' ‘That's not supposed to be there.' ... He was amazed I was still walking and talking.”
Harrison underwent emergency surgery and, in the aftermath of the brain-tumor news and the surgery, reports surfaced that the surgery had gone well and that doctors had removed the entire tumor.
But in reality, those were scary moments. Harrison was originally supposed to undergo a three-hour operation. But after the fourth hour, the surgeon told Michelle -- who was pregnant with their second child -- and the other family members who waited at the hospital that there were complications. the surgery would continue for several more hours.
“We were shocked,” Michelle said. “We expected it to be something that was pretty easy and that shouldn't have many complications. The tumor was not huge. It was the placement of the tumor -- it being right on his brain stem, and it was engulfed in veins."
Twelve hours later, the surgeon reappeared and said Harrison's outcome was unclear. The next day, Harrison suffered a blood clot in his brain and had a stroke. The family worried that he might never wake up. And if he did, his capacity for a normal life might be severely diminished. Thanksgiving 2011 was not a happy time for the Harrison family.
“From that point, every hour, it was touch and go,” Michelle said. “He was declared a quadriplegic. He had paralyzed vocal chords. He was 'trached' and had a feeding tube.”
Said Harrison: “But I didn't die.”
Harrison eventually woke up, and he was moved to a rehab facility in Ann Arbor, Mich., where he was registered under an alias. This was unknown to everybody outside of Harrison's immediate circle.
But one year later, life goes on for the family -- what Michelle has called “a beautiful struggle.” It is an inspirational story that hopefully will continue to have a happy ending.
"I was surrounded by love and happiness. Surrounded by it,” Harrison said. " … They helped me get back to my feet. … I'm very thankful to be alive and to have a beautiful family."
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