CONCORD TWP., Ohio – Jack Sparent took footsteps Friday that were months in the making.
The active 13-year-old thought he had recovered from the flu in February, but on a class trip to Washington D.C. a week later, something went very wrong.
“I woke up and my legs were paralyzed, so it was a very scary moment, and I didn't know what was going on,” he said.
As the paralysis quickly spread, doctors diagnosed him with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a rare illness in which someone’s immune system fights its own nervous system instead of a virus. It affects only about 1 in 100,000 people, and it left Jack paralyzed from the eyes down.
“We didn't know when it was going to stop, and that was the scary part,” his mother, Jacque Sparent, said. “It's the scariest thing I've ever experienced. Right before they had to intubate him, he looked at me and said, ‘I love you,’ and I said, ‘I won't leave you until it comes out.’”
Jack spent four months in in-patient rehabilitation at the Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital for Rehabilitation.
"Some of the doctors said it would be a tough fight, and that's all Jack needed to hear,” Jacque said.
Difficult days fighting to get back on his feet were broken up by special visits, including from Tribe pitcher Andrew Miller.
“There’s sad and happy moments, but I look at when there are more sad parts, the happier parts are even better,” Jack said.
Jack walked out of rehab Friday afternoon, and after tear-filled goodbyes to his nurses, was whisked into a limousine to head home for the first time in months.
A welcome party with balloons and signs cheered his arrival home. Loved ones looked on as Jack walked up his driveway on his own two feet, home long before doctors predicted.
His fight is not over; Jack will continue outpatient treatment three days a week and he vows to play baseball again.
“You just have to look on the bright side of everything,” Jack said.
Medical experts are still unsure why Guillain-Barre Syndrome affects certain people.
Jack’s parents said they hope his experience can be a warning to others to be aware of this syndrome and seek help immediately if something seems wrong, even if it first appears flu-related.