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The Journals are the premier publications for high-quality, hyperlocal news and advertising in Monmouth County, New Jersey

Jul 01, 2020

Rumson Mom Speaks Out About Community Support Following Accident that Left Her Son Paralyzed

By Shanna O'Mara

From left: Molly, George, Hardie, Alvin, Mary Alice and Sophie Kressler.

Hardie Kressler is a recent graduate of Rumson-Fair Haven High School. He is a fitness buff, aspiring history major, sarcasm specialist, silver linings explorer, loving brother and devoted son. And at just 17 years old, he had to put his strength and sense of humor to the test when faced with a challenge many will never understand.

On March 24, Hardie was in a bicycling accident while out with a few friends. He fractured his neck and suffered compression damage to his spinal cord. His injury at the C5 and C6 vertebrae has left him paralyzed.

Hardie was initially diagnosed with a complete spinal cord injury which is characterized by a total lack of sensory and motor function below the level of injury. Hardie was hospitalized in March and had no mobility below his shoulders. He underwent successful spinal surgery and began physical therapy.

Mary Alice Kressler, Hardie’s mom, said her son was given a 6 percent chance of motor function returning.

“The odds are definitely against him,” she said. “Having said that, though, his doctor had a patient two years ago who is now walking and was a complete injury. It really is very unique. It’s all about the person. There are so many factors it’s almost impossible to put it into boxes that way.”

It is also impossible to break Hardie’s spirit. His mom calls him the “class clown type” and said he has kept the mood light during such a difficult time.

Family members welcome Hardie Kressler home on June 10.

“I am blown away by him. As a little kid, he was always the one saying irreverent jokes in public and embarrassing his parents,” she laughed. “It’s really shining through now in how he is dealing with this. His attitude has been so amazing. He has been so positive. He has never complained about being homesick. Having to be [in the hospital] alone, without family and at such a young age, it was hugely difficult for him. He has kept his sense of humor through it all which is mind-boggling to me how he can be so upbeat.”

Hardie was admitted to Kessler Rehabilitation Center in West Orange but was unable to have visitors because of restrictions put into place during the pandemic. Still, his supporters rallied around him and made certain he never felt alone. His mother, father Alvin, sisters Molly and Sophie, and brother George began the campaign, “Go Hard for Hardie,” to unite the community and raise money for Hardie’s medical expenses. Family, friends and neighbors all joined the cause, taking on physical challenges to spread the word about Hardie’s recovery and fundraise.

“The outpouring of support, love and generosity from people has just been overwhelming,” Mary Alice said. “It really is incredible because it makes you realize, ‘This is why we moved here.’ It’s a community where people are so kind and caring. I’m glad we live in a community like this, especially at this time, because boy oh boy, we couldn’t have done it without all of the support we’ve gotten – and it has only just begun.

“There’s a family a few houses down that moved in a few months ago. We have yet to meet them, but they have little kids. They made him cards, they made him a bracelet – one of them says, ‘Go Hard for Hardie.’ I brought it to him, and he laughed. He wears it every day. Every little outreach makes him smile. I want people to know how much it all means to him.”

Hardie Kressler played baseball and football at Rumson-Fair Haven High School. He also participated in strength and conditioning training and cross fit competitions.

 

CrossFit Salus Health & Fitness members and their families welcome Hardie home.

Watching his loved ones get active in his honor brings a different sense of joy. Hardie has always been fit, and before the accident, he played baseball and football at RFH. He also participated in strength and conditioning training at school. After watching a cross fit video and visiting local gyms, Hardie met Gino Salveo, co-owner and coach at CrossFit Salus Health & Fitness and fell in love with this new kind of workout.

“When I first met Hardie, he struck me as a hardworking teen with the integrity and virtues that fit the mold of a goal setting competitive person,” Salveo said. “At Salus, we welcome all levels of fitness, but it’s refreshing to have someone like Hardie come looking for a challenge. I was elated to see he is a great listener and focused. No matter what Hardie sets his mind to, he will be great! That’s exactly what he did in his first year at Salus; he entered a worldwide competition and finished 57th in the world against a few thousand teens in his age group.”

Through his work at Salus and in the weight room at school, Hardie developed great upper body strength.

“He moved his arms in the hospital, and we were so excited, but the first few times, it was a little bit of spasming,” Mary Alice said. “It was almost like we were being tricked by his muscles because he did have such great muscle strength in his biceps. It faded, and that was disheartening. But then it came back, and it was legitimate control.”

Within the first two months of recovery, Hardie lost more than 40 pounds due to muscle atrophy. Still, he had already gained motor and sensory function below his injury level. He is beginning to retain movement at the C7 vertebra, and his diagnosis was even changed to reflect an incomplete injury. This increases his chances of having mobility return.

“We’re hopeful that with the aggressive therapy he’s going to be getting in outpatient that that will continue to improve,” Mary Alice said.

Hardie was discharged from Kessler Rehabilitation Center on June 10 and welcomed home by a crowd on Bingham Avenue in Rumson. Hundreds of loved ones, including many of his classmates, came out to cheer on Hardie as he headed home for the first time in months. Rumson first responders even escorted his family’s vehicle, signaling his return with lights and sirens.

Hardie returned to his house which, in his absence, had been modified to fit his needs.

Community members cheer as the Kresslers’ vehicle approaches. Rumson first responders escorted the family home.

“The Borough of Rumson and our contractors have just been amazing in really rushing to get this done for us even with COVID [restrictions],” Mary Alice said. “The building department [wasn’t] really operating as it normally would, so getting permits was amazing, that they were able to come together and do that for us. We’re so appreciative.”

Mary Alice and Alvin will be Hardie’s primary caregivers and have been extensively trained on how to do so. They have also looked into getting their son the equipment he needs to enjoy life after his injury.

“We joke that he was born in July and his horoscope sign is Cancer. Cancer is a water sign, and Hardie we always used to call a merman because he lived in the ocean and the pool,” Mary Alice said. “So one of our investments is a special chair we can take to the beach, and it will help us get him in and out of the pool. He is a 17-year-old boy, and he wants to go to the beach every day with his friends, but we’ll have to make some adaptions to do that.”

Each wheelchair costs about $30,000, Mary Alice said, and Hardie will ultimately need four: one for the pool and beach, one for the car, one for at home and one for the shower.

For the next year, Hardie will focus on his rehab. In the fall of 2021, he will attend Fairfield University, likely to pursue a history degree. He has always wanted to be a high school history teacher and even had the chance to test his skills in the classroom through Senior Project at RFH. He taught social studies to Michelle Devoy’s eighth grade class at Forrestdale School. Mary Alice said Devoy and the students have been incredibly compassionate throughout his recovery, sending cards and well wishes every step of the way.

For every step still to come, Hardie will have the strength and support to climb.

For more information about Hardie’s injury and ways to support the Kressler family, visit linktr.ee/gohardforhardie.