Family Style Nursing is a Win-Win

For Football Hero and Clementina Okojie, LPN

College football hero Eric LeGrand remembers everything about the day of his life-changing accident. It was October 2010, the last five minutes of the fourth quarter. His team, the Rutgers University Scarlet Knights, had just tied up their Big East game against Army, 17 to 17.

The opposing team had the ball. Rutgers defensive tackle, #52 Eric LeGrand, charged forward and stopped Army’s runner. But the play took an unexpected turn, and upon impact, Eric landed on his back unable to move, unable to breathe. He’d sustained a high-level spinal cord injury that left him with quadriplegia and a compromised autonomic nervous system.

“At the time they were carrying me off the field, I tried to give a thumbs up but I couldn’t,” Eric said. “I couldn’t breathe. My coach was looking down at me and said, ‘E, you have to pray.’ And I thought, ‘My life is over. I’m going to die right here on this field.’”

But he didn’t die; he fought. And when his mother Karen saw Eric mouth the words “I’ll be back” in the ICU, she knew then that Eric was fighting, and that she and everyone in their support circle were going to fight their hardest along with him.

When Clementina Joined the Family

When Eric finally was able to leave New Jersey’s top rehab hospital and move back home with his mom Karen, Clementina Okojie, LPN was there to help with his care transition. She was Eric’s first BAYADA Nurse.

“It was weird at first having professional caregivers in our home, but Clementina made us feel comfortable right away,” Karen remembers. “Now she’s just like part of the family.”

When they met, the first thing Clementina noticed about Eric was his grateful, accommodating spirit. “If you’re there to help him, he appreciates you right away,” she says. “That’s the way he made me feel when I first met him. He has a beautiful heart.”

His doctors had told him he’d need a ventilator to breathe for the rest of his life, but Eric didn’t accept that for a moment. He worked hard doing breathing exercises and taught himself to breathe independently—and, amazingly, freed himself completely from the ventilator only five weeks after his catastrophic injury.

Fighting Together, Family Style

Bright and early six days a week, Clementina helps Eric get up and ready for the day. She checks his vitals and does his routine care and preventive care. Eric tells us, “It’s a joy in the morning, getting back in my chair and getting my independence back.”

And once he’s up, Eric is ready to take on the world. He’s busy working and traveling as an advocate, a sports broadcaster, and a motivational speaker, and he continues to work hard on his rehabilitation therapy.

“Since I met Eric he’s gained movement in his shoulders and sensation throughout his body, and he’s able to use his back muscles to lean forward. Now they’ve got him walking on a treadmill,” Clementina tells us. “He has a mental toughness he got from football. His passion, his determination, and his belief he can do anything… Eric knows what to say to put a smile on my face every day, and he proves anything is possible if you believe.”

Living with quadriplegia puts Eric at risk for some serious complications that could lead to hospitalization, such as urinary tract infection and autonomic dysreflexia. Clementina and her care team are on top of it, though, and they’re proud that Eric has never developed either of those serious complications under their watch.

“I know what to look for,” Clementina explains. “I can see early warning signs, and I know what to tell him to do to prevent getting sick. And Eric knows he has to do what I say, because he trusts me the most and wants to stay out of the hospital.”

Like Brother and Sister

When Eric has a business trip or takes a vacation, or when he wants to go to a party or out with his friends, he brings Clementina.

“I’m like his big sister,” she says. “Eric wants everything in life any other man wants, and I want that for him. I help get him ready and out the door, and then I give him his space. I’m not going to cramp his style. If he needs me, all he has to do is call.”

And just like brother and sister, the two confide in each other. Clementina really values the advice Eric gives her about her sons, since he can see things from a young guy’s perspective. “My boys adore Eric. They respect him,” she says. “If my sons ever needed someone to talk to, after mom, it would be Eric.”

 Why Clementina Loves What She Does

It’s clear that for Clementina, nursing has to come from the heart. “I go to work to give 100 percent every day,” Clementina says, “and I love adult nursing because you learn so much about the world from your clients.”

Earnestly, she adds, “I am privileged to be able to help Eric. He gives me a different perspective and motivates and inspires me as much as I help him.”

Now that she’s like part of the family, there’s no shaking Clementina’s commitment to make sure Eric gets the best care and quality of life possible. “It’s Eric’s goal to someday walk back onto that football field, and we believe along with him,” she declares. “He can do anything he sets his mind to.”