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Penn State hero visits Schreiber Pediatric

Walking the halls of Schreiber Pediatric Rehab Center in Lancaster was eerily familiar for Adam Taliaferro.

At one time, the lawyer had been a highly coveted recruit and promising freshman for the Penn State football team. But in an instant, his dream of playing in the NFL was gone when he broke his neck and bruised his spinal cord making a tackle in just his fifth collegiate game.

He was given just a 3 percent chance of ever walking again.

Yet last Wednesday, Taliaferro walked the halls of Schreiber and visited with nurses and patients. And while he was treated in Philadelphia, he could relate all too well with the children fighting their own battles in this rehab center.

“It’s sad more people don’t know about this place and the miracles that go on here daily,” Taliaferro said. “Without places like this, my story didn’t happen.”

Shannon Hess, mother to a son with cerebral palsy, agreed her life would’ve been different were it not for the help her family received at treatment centers. She compared her experience to planning her whole life for a trip to Italy, yet ending up in Holland. She eventually learned there was plenty to love about Holland even though it’s not what she had hoped.

Taliaferro—who only wanted to play in the NFL—also had to adjust his life after ending up in “Holland.”

 “I remember waking up in a rehab center, and I didn’t yet realize the situation I was in,” Taliaferro said. “I cried every night for two months after that.”

His therapy started with simply moving a finger and learning patience and to trust others—humbling lessons for the once NFL hopeful. The late coach Joe Paterno—who his son said cried when Taliaferro was injured—promised Taliaferro Penn State would be there for his life, and he flew to Philadelphia often to check up on him. “He meant it too,” Taliaferro said.

At one point Paterno told Taliaferro he wanted him to lead the team out of the tunnel the next year. Knowing his odds, Taliaferro had his doubts.

“He stayed on my butt,” Taliaferro said. “Coach could be very persistent.”

Paterno had him take an occupation test to see where he should focus his studies. Taliaferro liked law because he thought he could be an agent for his teammates. Up to a month before he died, Paterno always offered to help Taliaferro.

And sure enough, before a national TV audience Taliaferro led the Nittany Lions out of the tunnel for the season opener the following year.

He went on to law school. In Sept. 2012 he joined Bristol-Myers Squibb as a healthcare advocate focusing on mental health, oncology and HIV products. He also was elected to Penn State’s Board of Trustees to try and “understand how decisions were made in” Nov. 2011.

Although this isn’t the life he envisioned, he wouldn’t trade it for the world. He’s learned to take joy in little things, and he thinks of places like Schreiber and the children fighting there to remind himself that things aren’t that bad even after a bad day at the office.

He met with children and encouraged them as some deal with disabilities they were born with and others battle new ones brought on through car accidents or other unfortunate situations.

“I know when I was going through therapy, any positive reinforcement I could get meant the world to me,” Taliaferro said. “Now I make it a habit for anyone going through therapy or hardship to cheer them on. It really helps.”

As for being a role model and example for the children as someone who beat the odds, Taliaferro said it was very humbling. He remembers looking up to people who came through his rehab center and thinking if they could do it, so could he. He’s proud now to be that inspiration and support places like Schreiber.

 “Outside these walls, there’s everyone telling you what you can’t do,” Taliaferro said. “Places like this is where they tell you ‘you can.’ Hope is where it begins.”

Kurt Bopp is assistant editor/web at Central Penn Parent.

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