How a Midlothian teen nearly killed in crash, beat the odds to walk at graduation

Posted at 12:00 AM, Jun 12, 2018
and last updated 2018-06-12 00:00:52-04

MIDLOTHIAN, Va. -- Harrison Zierenberg will never forget the moment he walked across the stage to accept his high school diploma.

He received a standing ovation.

"Friday was one of the best days of my life," said Zierenberg.

It was just four weeks ago, that Zierenberg had a spinal pump removed that gave him the chance to learn to walk again.

Up until recently, Zierenberg has only been able to take 14 to 15 steps on his own, so he was nervous about walking across the stage at the Siegel Center in front of a large crowd.

Harrison Zierenberg

"I was thinking about my mom," Zierenberg said. "I had the opportunity to graduate in December, but the only reason I went to the event was because my mom was like 'Harrison, I can't wait until you walk across that stage.'"

Three years ago, Zierenberg was struck by a van while vacationing with his family in the Cayman Islands.  Doctors didn't think he would survive.

Once a stand out student and lacrosse player at James River High School, Zierenberg never let his brain injury discourage him.

He persevered through two brain surgeries, spinal operations and months and months of physical therapy.

Zierenberg says a near death experience at the time of his accident, gave him incredible faith in God to keep fighting.

Harrison Zierenberg

"I owed it to myself and to my mom," Zierenberg said.  "But also, for everyone who couldn't do the things that I can do now. It would be an injustice for me, I feel I wouldn't be morally sound, unless I gave it my all."

On Friday, Harrison not only graduated, but he met the neurosurgeon who saved his life.  "Dr. James," as everyone calls him, flew in from the Cayman Islands to surprise the family.

There were tears and hugs.

"My mom said, 'thank you for saving my son's life,' and he said 'I didn't save his life- God did, I was just there to care for him.'"

Harrison Zierenberg

Zierenberg says gratitude has always sustained him and given him strength, not only for his walk across stage on Friday, but for his journey in life.

He says he'll never stop trying to inspire others.

"A lot of people don't even give themselves enough credit to realize how important they are," Zierenberg said. "All the people who helped me- I won't forget them.  It's a lifelong journey and we're all on the ride."

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