Nearly 250 students received their diplomas from Valley Stream South High School on June 21, but for some, the day carried extra meaning. Six and a half years ago, it looked like Christopher Infantino might not even make it to graduation, and even if he did, it likely wouldn’t be as one of the top students in his class.
What appeared to be a case of the flu in December 2006, when Infantino was in sixth grade at the Robert W. Carbonaro School, turned out to be a rare virus, encephalitis, which left him in a coma through Christmas.
“It’s a very serious illness,” said Dr. Brian Blinderman, Infantino’s pediatrician. “It’s possibly a life-threatening illness. He was a sick kid.”
Encephalitis, or swelling of the brain, can cause permanent side effects, even if a person survives. Infantino could have been left paralyzed, blind or brain damaged. He also could have developed speech issues. But after weeks of therapy, he made a full recovery. He was able to play baseball and football in high school, and ranked 14th in his class.
How it began
“He was really bad off,” recalled his mother, Angela Shirian. “They couldn’t find the germ that was causing this.”
When he was sick that December, all signs pointed to the flu, Shirian said, noting that her son had a high temperature and was feeling lethargic. Blinderman gave Infantino some anti-viral medication.
Infantino returned to school the week before Christmas but came home on a Thursday afternoon with a bad headache. His symptoms worsened and he missed school on Friday, the last day before holiday break. Infantino called his mother at work, saying he could not stop throwing up and could barely move.
His father, C. Joseph Infantino, took him to the emergency room at Franklin Hospital. When Shirian arrived a little while later, her son was isolated from other patients and hooked up to intravenous tubes. Shortly after, he was taken by ambulance to Schneider Children’s Hospital to receive more specialized care.