via the Orlando Sentinel – May 5th – article by Kate Santich – pictures from the story (the picture gallery is WELL WORTH LOOKING THROUGH, as is the Video!)
In the frozen moment of a snapshot, John Michael Night is a sunlight-dappled teen on a beach, standing tall, his arms around his smiling older sister and kid brother.
It looks like an answer to prayer.
John Michael, a former Trinity Prep lacrosse star struck by a rare, devastating brain-stem stroke just before Christmas 2015, had initially suffered locked-in syndrome — the inability to move anything other than his eyes.
Thousands of admirers around the world — including celebrities, sports heroes and politicians — began following his journey to recover, donating several hundred thousand dollars along the way.
And in the photo, taken Easter Sunday, it seemed John Michael, now 19, was healed.
“Oh, if you only knew,” says his mother, Vickie Jones Night. “It only took about three different attempts, 50 pictures, a couple of falls and me sitting behind him giving some support. … But it did come out really nice in the end.”
The Easter photo session on the beach is a family tradition, one the Nights missed only in 2016, when John Michael was midway into a five-month stay at the Shepherd Center, a rehabilitation facility in Atlanta. This year, they were determined to celebrate normalcy — if only in this small way.
In the year since returning home to Winter Park — since throngs of well-wishers lined Park Avenue, cheering and crying — a new normal has emerged. And every new step, like the family portrait on the beach, takes enormous effort.
John Michael, once known for his fierce work ethic in sports, now focuses the same energy on retraining his body to eat, talk and move. The progress is both astonishing and agonizingly slow. He can now sit up, stand, control his head and chew his food — things he could not do a year ago, when he was still being fed through a tube.
He can text and FaceTime and surf the web using head controls attached to his motorized wheelchair. He can say a few words and short sentences, though he doesn’t yet like the sound of his voice.
And he can walk — haltingly and with assistance. At this point, he is able to support about 80 percent of his own weight. At nearly 6-foot-2 and 180 pounds, that’s no minor feat.
But it’s hardly the life he envisioned just 17 months ago. Then, he was a popular star of Trinity’s lacrosse team who had just been awarded an athletic and academic scholarship to Georgia’s Mercer University, one of the South’s top colleges. For a kid who had practiced relentlessly to improve, it was everything he wanted.
Instead, he has watched as his friends went to senior outings and summer adventures and then away to college in the fall. He said goodbye to his high-school girlfriend too, telling her as she left for Florida State University, “You need to go, have fun and do your thing. And I need to focus on getting better.”
He had to dictate the letter to his mom.
Now, six days out of seven, John Michael works up to four hours in therapy with professionals who prod his neuro-circuitry to awaken once-routine patterns. The brain stem, a half-inch in diameter, controls all basic activities of the central nervous system — consciousness, blood pressure, breathing — and all motor control for the body flows through it. Many people who suffer such strokes, especially one as severe as John Michael’s, don’t survive. Recovery varies wildly.
Read the rest HERE