From coma to college graduate: Local man shares his recovery story

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BLOOMSBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — A Midstate man is one of many students who will graduate from college this year, but he wasn’t sure this day would ever come because he suffered from a traumatic brain injury in 2014 that changed the course of his life.

In the Lithgow family ‘believe’ is somewhat of a life motto. But their journey started with disbelief.

During his freshman year at Bloomsburg University in 2014, Jackie Lithgow tried to break up a fight and was punched in the head.

“Knocked me out, I hit the ground, and then I was in a coma for 15 days,” Jackie Lithgow said.

His parents Lisa and Jim were shocked when they got the call from the hospital.

“You hear people and it happens to them and you feel horrible for them but you don’t think it’s ever going to happen to you,” Lisa Lithgow said.

With a fractured skull and severe brain injury, Jackie’s recovery was long and difficult. It involved countless surgeries and intense rehabilitation.

His team at Magee Rehabilitation Hospital in Philadelphia reminded the family to believe.

“Their motto was ‘believe in a way back.’ And boy did we need to believe in a way back,” Lisa Lithgow said.

Over the course of many months Jackie had to relearn how to walk, talk, and even eat again.

“Everything you learn as a child, and you really don’t think of,” Jackie Lithgow said.

Step by step he fought his way back.

“You get through it and you learn it and you work as a team and just seeing your loved one get better and better is just pretty amazing,” Lisa Lithgow said.

After conquering the basics Jackie took a leap of faith.

“Since I got injured, my goal was to go back to college and get a degree,” Jackie Lithgow said.

He returned to Bloomsburg University, starting with a lighter course load and working his way back to normal.

Now he’s set to graduate in May, an accomplishment his parents can’t picture without getting emotional.

“It’s surreal, to think how far he’s come,” Jim Lithgow said.

In the Lithgow home there’s a wall where graduation pictures of Jackie and his sister Lindsay hang.

They each have one from high school, Lindsay’s college picture is there too. Soon Jackie will fill the empty spot next to it.

“To be at the point where we are where some people thought Jackie wasn’t even getting out of a wheelchair. So to be graduating from college, gosh I mean, pretty cool,” Lisa Lithgow said.

Through it all the most important lesson Jackie’s learned didn’t come from a classroom.

“Nothing is impossible as long as you believe you can do it,” Jackie Lithgow said.

Their journey has become about more than just Jackie’s recovery. The family started ‘The Jackie Lithgow Foundation’, an organization that helps other survivors of traumatic brain injuries.

You can find out more about it here.

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