Matt Cruz is home.
After spending more than three months in hospitals in Boston and Philadelphia following a bus crash in Boston in February, the 16-year old Neshaminy High School sophomore, from Penndel, was discharged from Magee Rehabilitation Center last Saturday.
He remains paralyzed from the chest down, but his release marks an important milestone in what is still set to be a long recovery process.
"Ecstatic," was how his mother Megan described their reaction to his release, while acknowledging that there are many challenges still ahead.
Cruz was injured on Feb. 2, when a bus carrying him and about 40 others home from a visit to Harvard University hit an overpass on a Boston throughway. He was the most seriously injured passenger in the crash, and spent months recovering at Boston General Hospital, Jefferson University Hospital in Center City, and Magee.
His rehab is continuing, his mother said in a telephone interview Tuesday, but as an outpatient: he is allowed to return home every afternoon after spending about six hours a day at a Magee outpatient facility.
Bringing Cruz home has not been without issue: the first-floor bathroom in their home underwent extensive modifications, his mother said, and she moved his bedroom from the second floor to a large room on the first floor. One bonus for Matt: that room housed a 65-inch television before its conversion, and it's still there even though it's now his sleeping quarters, she said.
One of the biggest issues they face will be continuing to transport Matt to and from his rehab sessions. Megan said she has rented a van for about a month, but that all of the vans from the company she's using are booked in mid-June for the U.S. Open golf tournament, to be held at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore. She is currently exploring alternative options, since Cruz's rehab is to last until at least late June.
Friends and community members have rallied around the family to help the recovery process, and Cruz actually made his first post-hospital public appearance at a fundraiser to benefit him on the same day he was released from Magee.
Just a few hours after his returning home last Saturday, Cruz surprised about 300 people at an event that was set to be an auction in the school's gym with live music, according to Emily McFadden, 17, Cruz's friend and the event's organizer. Around 7:45 p.m., however, McFadden said she grabbed the microphone and surprised the crowd.
"Guys, I have a special announcement," she recalls saying. "Matt's here."
Her sister, Anna McFadden, 16, then accompanied Cruz and his family into the gym at Our Lady of Grace School, Emily said, and "everyone was clapping."
Cruz made a lap and did introductions, McFadden said, then spent the night enjoying the company of his family and friends. He stayed until around 10:30, she said, when the event ended. She said he was "doing great" and handled his first post-hospital experience well.
The fundraiser collected about $6,000 for the Cruz family, McFadden said, and she was thrilled with the way the event turned out.
"It was awesome," she said. "I was expecting a big turnout, but the amount of people that were there was just amazing."
Megan Cruz said she is extremely grateful for the support.
"If it wasn't for how tight this community is, I wouldn't have been as successful as I (was) at getting Matthew back to a home that is modified to meet his needs now," she said. "We really want to thank everyone, to say we're just really really grateful."