Philadelphia sports teams and their fans have developed something of a reputation for being some of the meanest in the country, but on Tuesday the Flyers put that mischaracterization to bed, welcoming a local fan recovering from a brutal attack into the locker room for a special visit at the team’s practice facility.
Nineteen-year-old Jackie Lithgow was a freshman at Bloomsburg University when he was severely beaten at a frat party on Feb. 23 and left with brain damage. According to NJ.com, Lithgow was trying to break up a fight that started after four football players from Kutztown University attempted to crash the party but were denied entrance.
According to the report, Lithgow was in a coma for a month after being punched and hitting his head on the pavement, and has been at Magee Rehabilitation Hospital in Philadelphia since May. If all goes well, Lithgow will finally be able to go home on Nov. 25, but first came Tuesday’s meet-and-greet with the Flyers, which Lithgow described as "epic."
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"It’s a tough situation," Flyers coach Craig Berube told NJ.com after Lithgow’s visit. "You really feel for the kid. I’m glad he got a chance to come out here and watch practice and meet the guys. All our guys are good that way to talk to him, and it means a lot to him."
Jackie Lithgow paid us a visit yesterday at practice. Thanks for stopping by and best wishes for a speedy recovery! pic.twitter.com/QKkoTxNn6d
The visit was arranged by team ambassador Todd Fedoruk, according to NJ.com, which reports that the former Flyers left winger had been visiting Lithgow in the hospital for month.
"I remember meeting him six months ago and the response he gave me when we gave him a Flyers jersey was incredible … just his look," Fedoruk told NJ.com. "Now anything Flyers he gets excited. He’s been making progress in his rehab, so I wanted to get him out here as soon as we could. His family is using the Flyers as a tool to bring him back. It’s cool, man."
After watching practice at the Flyers’ facility in nearby Voorhees, N.J., along with his parents, his older sister and an occupational therapist from the hospital, Lithgow got a chance to visit with his favorite Flyers players, including Wayne Simmonds, whose jersey Lithgow was wearing.
Lithgow's dad holds Simmonds auto'd stick so Jackie can read 17's msg “Best of Luck in your recovery" (via Flyers PR) pic.twitter.com/4oJvdJepmL
"We got the whole backstory on it and at first you’re kind of sad and then it angers you," Simmonds told NJ.com. "To see what happened to him, it’s unfortunate that people have such low regard for someone’s else life, and to do that to someone is unacceptable."
The moment had a profound impact on both Lithgow and the Flyers, and is certainly one that neither will ever forget.
"It just makes you think about when you’re having a bad day that there are still things worse in life," Sean Couturier told NJ.com during Lithgow’s visit. "It’s a sad story, but he still has a smile on his face and that’s what’s important."
Added Ron Siggs, Magee’s VP for development: "He came back here as a new young man thanks to the Philadelphia Flyers. His smile has lit up the entire floor and he is more engaged than he’s ever been here."