From near death to high school graduate
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Infantino’s temperature continued to rise, reaching as high as 105. He slipped into a coma that evening and had feeding tubes inserted. Shirian said that she soon learned that a coma meant his brain was shutting down to fight the germ. “It was just a natural response to the disease,” she said. If and when he would come out of it was unknown.
Blinderman said that there is no drug to cure encephalitis, so Infantino had to get better on his own. All the doctor could do was ensure that Infantino was getting enough oxygen and fluids, manage his electrolytes and monitor for brain swelling. One night when he sensed Infantino was not doing well, he made a visit to the hospital at 4 a.m.
After six days, Infantino emerged from the coma. “When he finally came out of it,” his father said, “the first thing he said to me was, ‘Did I miss Christmas?’”
Indeed he had, but the family had yet to celebrate. The decorations were up and the presents were wrapped, but holiday was put on hold while Infantino, the second youngest of five siblings, was ill.
“When I woke up, I knew what happened,” Infantino said. “I remember people always touching my hair.”
His road to recovery began. At first he couldn’t walk or move his left arm, his left eye was weak and he had lost a lot of weight. Shirian said she thought her son would never play sports again. But that wasn’t her main concern. He was always a very smart boy, she noted, so she wondered how a brain disease would affect his intellect.
Infantino spent the next month at a rehabilitation center in Westchester, where he had three hours of school each day in addition to physical and speech therapy. He took the mandated state tests in English Language Arts and math, and scored in Level 4 on both, the highest possible achievement.
He also made some new friends, and said the other children there were some of the nicest people he ever met. But not all were as lucky as he was. One lost a leg; another was paralyzed. Infantino said once he got his strength back, he did anything he could to help them. That was in between visits from his family, neighbors and teachers.
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