‘Now he is again to himself’
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Each morning for about three weeks, Christion Abercrombie awoke in his dorm room on the Atlanta Falcons coaching facility, acquired dressed and walked to the group’s weight room. A smile on his face — there’s at all times a smile — he started to work with gamers.
Then he’d assist his boss, Falcons director of power and conditioning Thomas Stallworth, put together for follow. Throughout follow, Abercrombie appeared round. Thought how he used to play and the way this might have been him. But it surely does not sadden him.
As a substitute, he is glad. Grateful.
That Abercrombie is within the NFL, even for a couple of weeks as a part of the Invoice Walsh variety internship program, is outstanding. That it is his second internship — the primary was with the Tennessee Titans final coaching camp and this 12 months with Atlanta — is an indication of his progress.
If the 24-year-old wants a reminder, he can really feel the 2 chains he wears round his neck — a cross and the No. 6, the quantity he wore as a linebacker at Tennessee State when his total world modified.
Or on his cellphone, the place he saved a narrative about his restoration from a traumatic mind harm. Final month, he wasn’t searching for something particular. He simply needed to work.
“This isn’t a sympathy factor. No, he stated he needed to be a part of it,” Stallworth stated. “He needed to be handled regular. So we deal with him that means.”
A bit of underneath 4 years in the past, this might have appeared unattainable after docs informed Abercrombie’s mother and father their son won’t survive the night time.
ON SEPT. 29, 2018, Abercrombie was in the course of one among his finest video games as a center linebacker for Tennessee State. The Tigers have been taking part in the crosstown SEC group, Vanderbilt, and it was a possible showcase for Abercrombie, a standout highschool participant in Atlanta who earned a scholarship to Illinois earlier than transferring to TSU.
The how and why of what occurred subsequent is unclear.
Abercrombie says he had complications the week main as much as the Vanderbilt recreation, “however I simply thought it was soccer.” Abercrombie practiced, however “I used to be popping ache tablets the entire week to assist.” He talked together with his mother and father, Staci and Derrick, in Atlanta, and by no means indicated something was incorrect.
Christion had complications earlier than, and he stated he remembers telling coaches he was having them. His defensive coordinator, Garry Fisher, informed ESPN he did not recall Abercrombie mentioning it. Even at this time, Staci stated, they don’t seem to be optimistic what, if something, their son was coping with that week.
In opposition to Vanderbilt, Christion was doing what he and his coaches hoped. He had 5 tackles and one quarterback hit.
On the finish of the primary half, Fisher stated, gamers got here to him and informed him Christion wasn’t talking clearly. Fisher observed Christion wasn’t reacting like regular. Christion walked to the sideline. Fisher stated he informed him, “Coach, my head is killing me.”
Christion collapsed. Staci stated docs informed her that her son suffered a number of strokes — presumably throughout the recreation — and a extreme mind harm. He was rushed to Vanderbilt College Medical Heart, the place he underwent emergency mind surgical procedure — a craniotomy eradicating a part of the left aspect of his cranium — inside an hour of collapsing.
Police escorted Christion’s mother and father to the sphere. Staci and Derrick had no thought what was happening. Christion had a historical past of dehydration. Possibly it was that. Then they arrived on the hospital and noticed directors for each Vanderbilt and TSU within the ready room.
“Lots of people have been there,” Staci stated. “And I knew then that one thing was probably not proper.”
THE LAST THING Christion remembers is making a sort out. On the hospital, Christion was in a coma postsurgery, the place Staci and Derrick spent each day for weeks — Derrick by no means leaving the hospital grounds and sleeping in his son’s resort room each night time — feeling it was “my responsibility” to not go away his son’s aspect. Initially, docs informed Christion’s mother and father he had lower than a 50% likelihood of surviving.
They prayed their son would recuperate. The primary few days, at the very least, they weren’t certain.
Progress was gradual. There could be a blink right here or a motion there. Then, hope. Derrick requested Christion to squeeze his hand. He did. Derrick nonetheless does not know if it was voluntary or reactionary to the ache, however in that second, it was nice.
School soccer gamers honored Christion with “AB6” on their cleats. Titans coach Mike Vrabel confirmed as much as the hospital, held Christion’s hand and Christion squeezed it, starting a friendship. Now-Falcons cornerback A.J. Terrell, Christion’s buddy and highschool teammate, reached out. One among Staci’s final tweets earlier than her son’s harm wished Terrell luck earlier than a Clemson recreation.
These messages stored them going. By Oct. 9, Christion responded to movies his mother and father confirmed him of individuals praying for him, squeezed Staci’s hand and counted on command utilizing his fingers.
On Oct. 17, Christion was discharged from Vanderbilt and transported to the Shepherd Heart in Atlanta, one of many nation’s high mind rehabilitation specialization facilities, to proceed his restoration.
CHRISTION HAD TO RELEARN the way to stroll and speak, eat and use the restroom. His reminiscence was shaky.
Lower than every week after arriving in Atlanta, as Derrick was transferring him round within the mattress, Christion grunted. Derrick requested him if he may communicate. Abercrombie whispered, “Sure.” “And from that day on,” Staci stated, “he continued to speak.”
It was one other signal possibly Christion would recuperate as he began occupational remedy. And the indicators stored coming. He began strolling and doing math issues.
Issues started falling away. Pals, together with Terrell, visited the hospital after Christion had a cranioplasty in December to restore the a part of the cranium that needed to be taken out throughout the preliminary surgical procedure. They noticed movies of him getting stronger.
By the point Christion was discharged on Dec. 21, 2018, he did not want a wheelchair.
“He went again as much as the third ground, like he had simply left for the weekend,” Staci stated. “He knew precisely the place his room was. And we by no means did transfer it.”
CHRISTION FINALLY UNDERSTOOD what occurred a few months after returning house. His mother and father and docs defined it earlier than, however it did not stick. Sitting with Derrick, he searched his title on YouTube.
“All these movies have been arising that I had a mind harm,” Christion stated. “I did not perceive that till I acquired house. It was a loopy feeling.
“Why am I not in class? It was loopy.”
Christion began to cry. The gravity of all of it overwhelmed him. Christion stated his dad sat there, informed him it was going to be OK.
The Abercrombies believed and shortly sufficient, it confirmed. In April 2019, Christion stood on stage and introduced the Titans’ fifth-round choose throughout the NFL draft in Nashville — linebacker D’Andre Walker, coincidentally a former youth soccer teammate.
Christion reenrolled in on-line courses at Tennessee State in the summertime of 2019. His mother and father, at the moment, did not really feel snug sending him again to Nashville. Staci and Derrick employed tutors to assist him. A sports activities science main at Illinois, he majored in interdisciplinary research at Tennessee State.
Christion completed his diploma at house and graduated in Could 2021.
“It was a milestone for us, simply to see him earn his diploma after all the obstacles he confronted,” Staci stated. “He was nonetheless capable of do it. It was superb.”
Now graduated, Christion wanted to discover a job.
THE ABERCROMBIES BEGAN the Christion Abercrombie Basis to assist carry consciousness to traumatic mind accidents and assist for individuals who endure their lasting results. It has turn into a ardour due to the assistance they obtained throughout their son’s restoration.
“I wish to be there for different individuals who went by means of what I went by means of,” Christion stated. “Individuals who have traumatic mind accidents, generally they do not recuperate as quick as I did. So I wish to assist them out, assist them get higher.”
Christion’s restoration modified his character. Earlier than the harm, he was quiet and shy. Now he is persistently gregarious and talks to everybody. Abercrombie believes the harm “has made me a greater me.” And it has helped match with the roles he has ended up touchdown.
Christion needed to stay in sports activities. He loves soccer, even in any case he has been by means of.
He discovered a job as an tutorial paraprofessional within the bodily schooling division at Feldwood Elementary in School Park, Georgia. Youngsters being youngsters, they’re going to ask him what occurred to his head. So he shares his story of restoration from his mind harm. On the finish, they normally inform him they’re glad he is nonetheless round.
“To let you know the reality, the primary day I went in I assumed it wasn’t going to be that enjoyable however it’s probably the greatest jobs ever,” Abercrombie stated. “I adore it. I like the children. I am unable to complain. It is not a tough job. I’ve enjoyable.”
His NFL goals caught, too. He’d fairly be taking part in, however alongside the way in which he developed relationships with Vrabel and different Titans staffers.
Tennessee employed Christion as a strength-and-conditioning intern final coaching camp — telling him in a video Vrabel despatched that performed throughout a fundraiser Christion attended.
It was the primary time Christion had been on his personal for the reason that harm. He lives together with his mother and father in Smyrna, Georgia, and one among his few remaining restrictions is self-imposed. He does not drive due to points with peripheral imaginative and prescient on his proper aspect.
Included within the internship was working the opening preseason recreation — in Atlanta in opposition to his hometown Falcons. The 2 groups he had been closest to — the Titans who embraced him and the Falcons who he grew up rooting for — in a single constructing.
“That was loopy, man,” Derrick stated. “It type of let you recognize, you may have goals and assume you are going to make it to the NFL a method and also you make it one other means. That is how he felt about it.
“It does not need to at all times occur the way in which you need it to occur or thought it was going to occur, however it’s taking place.”
FALCONS COACH ARTHUR SMITH knew Christion’s story from Smith’s time in Tennessee and briefly met him at a follow.
When purposes for this 12 months’s Invoice Walsh internship program got here by means of, Smith noticed Christion’s acquainted face. Vrabel reached out and vouched for Christion. Smith went to the group’s Walsh program coordinators, particular groups coordinator Marquice Williams and Sarah Hogan, coordinator of head coach operations, and requested that they interview him.
“It is our job to seek out nice coaches on the market,” Williams stated. “And minus no matter circumstances occurred, we at all times wish to give folks a possibility to develop on and off the sphere.”
Christion did nicely within the interview and landed an internship underneath Stallworth within the strength-and-conditioning division. When Terrell heard his buddy might need an opportunity, he texted Smith, imploring him to rent Christion. Terrell did not know they already had.
When Terrell noticed Abercrombie on the sphere and within the weight room throughout Christion’s internship, which ended after the primary preseason recreation, he considered his buddy’s journey. What being there meant for his buddy, who someday desires to be an NFL linebackers coach or defensive coordinator.
“Yeah, you at all times look, like, there’s undoubtedly an angel,” Terrell stated. “It is loopy how dangerous it was and now he is again to himself, laughing, proper the place we left off.”
Christion’s perspective permeated the constructing. Smith referred to as his vitality “contagious.” Each time he completed a dialog with Christion, Smith discarded no matter exterior annoyances he had and smiled. Christion’s presence made Stallworth higher recognize his personal youngsters, the oldest of whom is about to go off to school.
“Fascinated about what his mother and father have needed to sacrifice for him to get up to now in life,” Stallworth stated. “So it isn’t simply Christion, however his entire household.
“Like, the love, the assist system, his appreciation for all times places all the pieces in perspective for anyone.”