Robert Paylor — the 20-year-old sophomore at the University of California-Berkeley, who was left partially paralyzed during the opening minutes of the national championship Rugby game on May 6 — is slowly improving at the hospital with his family and friends by his side.
“It’s going to be a long road for him,” his aunt, Michele Sullivan, tells PEOPLE. “Doctors say it’ll be a very long journey for him but he’s incredible.”
Robert, from El Dorado Hill, California, collided with an opposing player and needed to be taken off the field on a stretcher. His parents, Jeff and Debbie, ran to the edge of the field not knowing his fate.
“She wasn’t sure if he was alive at that point because he was very still for a very long time,” says Sullivan. “They still hold onto a lot of hope that he’ll get better.”
Robert — who suffered a spinal cord injury between his C5 and C6 vertebrae — currently has some feeling down to his toes but has very little movement.
“Right now he has his use of his arms but not much of his hands,” says Sullivan. “He can bend his wrists and they continue to find more muscles he can use or can flex. He’s improving but he needs to get into therapy.”
He’s expected to be transferred from the trauma rehab unit to rehab early next week.
Sullivan says the entire family is blown away by how positive the 20-year-old been ever since the accident.
“He’s never ever said, ‘Why me?’ He told my sister that when he was lying on the field he realized how bad it was and that he needed to accept that this was his new life,” she recalls. “He felt reborn. He’s very religious and has had a priest there many times.”
He’s also “so inspired by all the people that are praying on his behalf even around the world.”
A GoFundMe page that was created to help with the steep medical bills and future expenses has raised over $564,000.
Visitors have walked in to his room nervous about what to expect and have walked out blown away.
“They’re worried and they don’t know what they’re going to find,” says Michele, who adds that even his ER nurses have written him notes about how much he’s touched their hearts.
“Then when they get a chance to talk to Robert, they start smiling and they’re grateful. Every single person he talks to has so much hope after. He’s so inspiring and positive.”
She added: “His journey is going to be long but it’s just the beginning. He is going to continue to amaze and inspire people.”