Right now, Archer is paralyzed from the top of the chest on down. Each upper school student who was also being inducted into Cum Laude Society, each wearing their kaki pants or skirts and their navy blue school blazers with the Mc Donogh seal, each was also donning another emblem, the small one-inch orange and black button with the words Archer Strong written across. Almost every student from the past year who was on stage as well as the current students receiving the prestigious and hard-earned academic honor, one by one, walked onto the stage with the Archer Strong button on the lapel of their blazer, boys and girls alike. They didn’t have to share it in that way, but they did. It didn’t take anything away; it made for greater celebration of each of them. Kernan was more honest in saying they didn’t do school, they did rehab. Remember about a week or so ago that news report about the experimental stem cell injections for a quadriplegic man? A friend sent me the email address I needed to try and reach the researchers. I gave them a brief overview of Archer’s condition and profile. This is what they were looking for: the perfect profile. There were many malades who had been recommended and they were each being interviewed and assessed that particular weekend at Mercy Hospital in Baltimore. When I arrived passing through the security and up onto the elevator, I slipped into a coatroom, hung up my coat, and stepped out into the hallway. He was brain damaged and partially paralyzed in his legs from a heart attack he had while running a marathon, now age 19, and medical help was not able to get to him for 15 minutes. His screaming, if you will, was the last memory I had as he was discharged and sent to another facility. I told her quickly the barriers and specifically what to demonstrate. He’s really amazing and thought long and hard about these things.
This picture was taken outside of The Food Market in Hampden, Baltimore on Archer’s birthday in July. I couldn’t help but feel joy and gratitude in every cell of my being as I watched Archer roll across the Mc Donogh School stage this past Monday. Archer maneuvered his powerchair using the T-bar in which his left hand rests, powered also by his left shoulder pushing his hand as if an extension. I quickly learned that none of these facilities dealing with acute rehab is equipped to teach or provide teaching while in-patient. His recovery was complicated, and honestly, his intellectual ability was complicated as it was near impossible to find teacher matches for him if the goal was to graduate a/k/a staying on course with the classes he would have otherwise been taking which were all AP’s and high level math. But I had no idea it was anything different than any other catastrophic injury like quadriplegia. So, last June, a wonderful surgeon at Johns Hopkins successfully removed it and all 42 feet of leads around Archer’s ventricles. I am sure that mirror neurons are sending messages to his brain, Remember walking? A machine like the GEO simulating what his body knows how to do already, maybe it will not only strengthen, but maybe it will wake it up. He stays up until 1am on many if not most school nights which concerns us on one hand and which we also admire on the other as he is driven to move forward and learn and do well in life despite the injury.
He delivered it beautifully, but only after giving us all a scare by almost tipping over in his 500 lb wheelchair when he hit a divet on the grassy slope as he rolled down in staggered procession with his classmates. It also didn’t matter that it took a few extra moments for this ritual with a new twist to be completed. I could feel the wet tears rolling down my cheeks as we all clapped at the end and felt so proud. I will tell you more about all that background later. On that subject of his being complicated, do you know what else just happened? Last week The Christopher Reeve Foundation contacted us and if they could write a letter of recommendation on Archer’s behalf when they heard he was making application for a scholarship from the Swim with Mike Foundation (wonderful group at Unit of Southern California) to help pay for college. It was extremely generous of them to Can you believe that. And I have begun to counsel those who have come and reached out and it really is a wealth of how to’s I guess you could say, of course unique to each injury but many across the board learnings I hope can help others. Nonetheless, their statement was sobering and included and reminded me that Archer had had 9 surgeries in 30 days, endured medical errors that were costly to his recovery such as placing blood pressure medicine in the saline drip bag, suffered 3 heart attacks, one resulting in 6 male medical workers having to beat his chest and back as he flat-lined for 6 minutes, required a subsequent pace maker implanted when he was only 17 years old, survived collapsed lungs on multiple occasions, bore a grueling searing pleuredesis procedure, endured the excruciating pain of a body trying to regulate itself while his entire body had to be rotated up onto his side every few hours 24-7 to drain his lungs and prevent pneumonia from settling into his lungs, endure three large chest tubes (inserted directly into the lungs and attached to containers we could see bedside) to drain fluid, experience his hands and feet curling in muscle atrophy because of the delay in physical therapy, live through his body being iced and de-iced in response to wild swings of high blood pressure, not lose hope at an alarmingly chronic low heart beat, endure constant deep lung suctioning (inserting long suction tubing through the hole in his neck snaking down into his tissue) 24-7 for six months, put up with machines needed for other machines when the use of an inexufflator was used to support the ventilator machine which was to used to support Archer’s breathing, but his body was not able to breathe on its own even with the ventilator support and additional boost because of the extensive nerve damage not providing enough enervation for his diaphragm, endured prolonged use of the ventilator and chronic lung desaturations and arrests in breathing requiring bursts of oxygen and other lung devices, and kept faith even when blebs appeared in his lung tissue and the machines were discontinued. We’ve all gotten better as his programs and now it’s a am weight shift and he can sleep until am. But what it means to go to college is…well, Archer wants to be like any one else who had always planned to go away for college. We are feeling very good about his choice and are searching and networking to those in places of power and influence there. Financial Aid let us know earlier that Archer is the first quadriplegic who has no function below his biceps to attend Penn, and they thought he might be the first with these limitations to attend an Ivy League.
He pitched forward and his body landed on the TBar that he maneuvers to move the chair, causing the chair to race forward. The board of trustees also awarded him the Character and Influence award. The auditorium packed with students and Mc Donogh parents was hush quiet while Archer stopped the powerchair and then manipulated the T-bar to move his big 500 lb chair on wheels to Mr. The achievement and all it has taken to catch up, stay current and excel draped gently and lovingly around his neck. It is interesting and I tell you, it was like a suspense film week to week figuring it out. They sent a copy of the recommendation letter today. I was blown away when in the letter they said that of all the quadriplegics they have counseled and assisted, they have never seen a person with injuries as complicated as Archer’s and that he is the first they have written a recommendation for. But they stated that they had never known of a quadriplegic injury as medically complicated as Archer’s and that is really what gave me pause. It’s not to say look at him, it’s worse than others. It’s more to say, It was that bad, see what is possible. He wants to live in a dorm and be a regular student. We knew absolutely no one at UPenn before Archer’s acceptance, I know feel I have some real champions and open minded people who are willing to help us chart a good solid course of care for his needs. That just told me that we have a lot of educating to do, so that is what I began.
He also knows one of Archer’s favorite artists Shep Fairy which was realized when Archer spied one of his posters in the back room. If I can help pave the way, he can do all the rest.
I’ll save most for another update but I do want to report that it has paid off to essentially go up to Philadelphia weekly or every other week since the end of January. So my job is to clear the path he already cut when he applied and was accepted.