Miracle recovery by student put in 15-day coma, six surgeries after punch 3 years ago

Miracle recovery by student put in 15-day coma, six surgeries after punch 3 years ago

It’s been over three years since a brawl at Bloomsburg University left then-freshman Jackie Lithgow fighting for his life.

On February 23, 2014, Lithgow was punched once in the back of the head by former Kutztown University football player, Angel Shakiel Cruz. Lithgow was attempting to break up a fight at a fraternity pledge party.

That punch sent Lithgow spiraling into a 15-day coma, followed by six different brain surgeries, a battle with MRSA, and months of in-hospital rehabilitation at Magee Rehabilitation Hospital in Philadelphia.

Now, back at Bloomsburg, Lithgow is officially a sophomore, defying the odds with strength fueled by faith.

“I had to relearn how to breath,” says Lithgow. “After I relearned how to breath, I had to relearn how to swallow and how to eat.”

Doctors ranked Jackie’s TBI, or traumatic brain injury, in the most severe category on the Glasgow Coma Scale.

Jackie says he was determined to free himself of his wheelchair, feeding tube and trachea to once again live a normal life. He says despite the unimaginable circumstances, he believes everything happens for a reason.

“God has a plan for everyone. He wouldn’t give you something that he knew you wouldn’t be able to handle,” says Lithgow. “I know that he wouldn’t have had this happen to me if he knew I wouldn’t be able to get through this.”

Following in his father’s footsteps, Lithgow was planning to pledge the Zeta Psi fraternity at Bloomsburg University. He was at a Zeta Psi fraternity pledge party the night of his injury.

At the Lithgows’ second Golf Fore Jackie benefit tournament, Zeta Psi brothers presented fraternity letters to Lithgow on the greens and inducted him on the spot.

“One of the guys came up to me and said you have been through more hell than we have been through for pledging, so you deserve these letters. I started crying. I couldn’t help it,” says Lithgow.

Just weeks after Lithgow’s injury in 2014, one of his closest friends, Derek Snyder, co-founded the Golf Fore Jackie benefit tournament, initially aiming to raise money to assist in the Lithgow’s mounting medical bills. Tournament proceeds also benefited the Magee Rehabilitation Hospital in Philadelphia where Lithgow spent months recovering.

“The number of people that just came out to show their support, just seeing the support from the community and how many people were willing to help out wherever they needed, it was amazing to see,” says Snyder.

With this year’s fourth annual tournament coming up, the Lithgow’s are already setting their sights on a new goal for the 2018 tournament. They’re hoping to use future tournament proceeds to start up the Jackie Lithgow Foundation to financially assist local traumatic brain injury patients and their families through rehabilitation and recovery.

Lithgow also hopes to dive into public speaking, sharing his miraculous and odd-defying story of determination and faith.

“I want to show people that no matter how hard it gets, you can make it through.”

Lithgow starts his first three classes as a sophomore at Bloomsburg this fall.

The 4th annual Golf Fore Jackie Tournament is on Sunday, May 28th at the Range End Golf Club in Dillsburg.

Entry information or donation inquires may be directed to

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