Road to Recovery
On January 18, 2014, John Hughes, 17, a resident of Webster, was running up and down the gymnasium stairs at Bartlett High School in preparation for the upcoming varsity baseball season. That night, he complained of soreness in his legs to his mother, Heidi Hughes.
The next morning, Heidi received a call from the school nurse. John had been taking a school exam when he tried to stand up and could not move his legs.
After extensive testing, a spinal tap, and scans, the doctors at UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester determined John had Transverse Myelitis, an inflammation of the spinal cord that targets nerves and often causes sensory problems in the lower body.
It is estimated that about 1,400 new cases of transverse myelitis are diagnosed each year in the United States. Doctors thought that John had picked up the infection from a common cold he had about a month prior.
In an instant, life changed.
John was suddenly paralyzed from the belly button down and came home in a wheelchair after being hospitalized for a month.
At first, the Hughes traveled to Worcester for John’s outpatient physical therapy.
“We were driving half an hour for a half-hour therapy session,” she remembers. “Then we drove half an hour back.”
Harrington HealthCare System Physical Therapist Karen Bussiere was recommended to the Hughes family by a friend. Since the Hughes lived less than five minutes from Harrington’s Physical Therapy office in Webster, Heidi decided to give it a try.
”When I first starting working with John, he tired very easily,” recalls Karen. “He needed assistance getting up and down the stairs … His family helped him with the most basic things.”
Heidi insists the relationship she developed with Karen made all the difference.
“Karen has become like a friend,” says Heidi. “She truly goes above and beyond. Whatever she said to do, she was always right.”
Through physical therapy, John graduated from being in wheelchair to being in a walker, then on crutches, and–by October 2014–he was walking.
He is slowly picking up baseball again.
“He’s swinging the bat in the pool without falling over now,” said Heidi. “Every day you see a little bit of progress. Not once did John ask why me. He would just say, ‘I have a job to do.’”
Karen even reached out to John’s personal trainer at the gym to go over medical history and therapy programs.
“John is a hard worker and has done whatever it takes to get stronger,” Karen said. “I have enjoyed when he has success with an activity when he has progressed to do something he couldn’t do before.”
John continues to make progress every day. He is junior at Barrlett High School, and wants to attend Worcester Polytech Institute to study civil engineering. The family is hopeful that John will be able to play baseball once again, but for now, his mother said, she is simply overcome with joy at how much he’s improved.
“All I wanted for Christmas this year was for John to be able to walk and I got it early,” Heidi said with emotion.
Heidi and John Hughes