Working to Defy the Odds
Jackie Lithgow set to Graduate from Bloomsburg University
BLOOMSBURG — Seven years after a head injury left him in a coma, Jackie Lithgow will defy expectations and graduate on Sunday, May 16, from Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania with a degree in media and journalism.
Lithgow’s life changed forever on Feb. 23, 2014, when the 19-year-old, trying to break up a fight, was blindsided by a punch and his head struck the pavement. He was life-flighted to Geisinger Hospital in Danville and was in a coma for 15 days and was given the worst possible ranking on the Glasgow Coma scale. Over 90% of patients with this type of injury never regain consciousness and if they do, are significantly impaired.
But with perseverance and support from his parents, BU alumni Jim and Lisa, family and community, Lithgow defied the odds. In the spring of 2016, two years after his injury, he returned to Bloomsburg University to begin taking classes again.
The road back to class was a hard one, involving nine surgeries and intensive rehabilitation.
A turning point for Lithgow, of Carlisle, was aqua-therapy in which he relearned to walk, one step at a time, with a treadmill in a swimming pool.
“At first, they moved my legs for me. I was walking for the first time since my injury. This was a goal, I achieved the goal, what’s my next goal. You can achieve whatever you set your mind to,” said Lithgow.
“With brain injuries, you’re always in rehab and always learning and always healing. My one doctor told me that when you go to the real world and go to college and walk on campus, that will be your therapy. I’m going to classes and walking, learning.”
“When I first started BU, I was an ITM major and switched to digital forensics,” said Lithgow. “But when I came back from my injury, I didn’t understand anything going on. So I talked with Theresa Bloskey in Trio Student Support Services, and I took an intro mass communications class with professor (Jason) Genovese and was hooked.”
Each semester, Lithgow tried to add a course to his schedule until he was taking four classes. His mom stayed local with friends becoming a source of help and guidance. Support from BU extended well beyond the first semester and involved many offices.
“Jackie is the epitome of the grit and determination for which we Huskies are known,” said BU President Bashar Hanna. “We are inspired by all that he has overcome, and are beyond proud of all that he has accomplished.”
“It starts with Dr. Hanna, I had lunch with him every so often,” said Lithgow. “Dr. Genovese has been a role model. All the professors have been wonderful. Obviously, the graduation will be different with distancing, but I’m really looking forward to it.
“In my 15 years here at BU I have never seen a more inspirational story than Jackie’s,” said Jason Genevese, chair of the department of media and journalism. “To see how far he has come these past few years is truly remarkable. He attacked his school work with impressive vigor and energy. Despite what he’s been through, Jackie always wears a big smile on his face and has the most charming personality. Whether we chat about school, family or Philadelphia sports, I’m just lucky to have crossed paths with this young man.”
Lithgow has been involved in more than his classes. He also created the Jackie Lithgow Foundation to support traumatic brain injury survivors during their road to recovery. The foundation has raised over $65,000 for Magee Rehabilitation Hospital and local TBI patients.
“Media and journalism is where I want to be,” he said. “It’s helped me think about, especially with the foundation. How to reach out and connect with people.”
What’s next for Lithgow?
“I have an internship with a local company in Carlisle,” he said. “Then after that, I’ll see what works best and what jobs open. Explore the real world as they say. I’m going to enjoy the ride.”