In late November of last year, former Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier launched the Ryan Shazier Fund for Spinal Rehabilitation to provide support and financial resources for spinal cord injury (SCI) patients and their caregivers.
On Wednesday the fledgling fund got a boost from Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, who donated $5,000—a donation that was subsequently matched by the team.
Steelers Social Justice Grant Program: Now in its Third Year
The donations were part of the Steelers Social Justice Grant program, a player-led program that engages with various organizations—including law enforcement, charitable organizations and the military—to strengthen the community at large.
“I am truly thankful for this,” Shazier told Steelers.com. “It means a lot. It lets you know the relationships you built while playing with guys—guys who are from different backgrounds and different parts of the world, really mean something. You have relationships that go beyond football.
The former first-round draft pick—who suffered a career-ending spinal cord injury against the Cincinnati Bengals on Dec. 4, 2017, one that left him temporarily paralyzed from the waist down—is even more excited about what the money means for SCI patients.
“I understand how much support and care you need for those with spinal cord issues,” added Shazier, who has been known to visit SCI patients. “Sometimes people don’t get the right amount of care or support or rehab they need. I started this to give them more support, the caregivers more support and help them get more rehab.”
Ryan Shazier Had the Support of ‘The Whole City of Pittsburgh’
In that regard, Shazier considers himself lucky. He had the resources to get the treatment he needed, including spinal stabilization surgery, which he had two days after his injury.
He also had the support of his wife and family—and a huge extended family—who helped him persevere to the point where he has long-since been able to walk unassisted.
“I had my whole family who came up from Florida and my wife’s family came up from Texas, and I also had the whole city of Pittsburgh, the NFL, and so many others supporting me with prayers,” Shazier told Heavy.com this past September, just days before he announced his retirement from the NFL.
But many SCI patients only have enough coverage for 30 rehabilitation sessions, which in Shazier’s experience, is totally inadequate. “That’s like trying to teach your kid to walk again in 30 sessions. That is almost impossible,” he says.
“We are just trying to give people more rehab, opportunities, give people back a meaningful lifestyle,” he adds, before noting that not everyone experiences an outcome as positive as he experienced.
“Everyone is not going to walk again but give them the opportunity to get back to some type of independence. That is what my foundation is about, giving people back independence, letting them do things on their own and just give them the opportunity to have support…. I wanted to give them an opportunity and let them know they aren’t alone.
Follow the Heavy on Steelers Facebook page for the latest breaking news, rumors and content!