Meet Under Dog
Jack Lehman, Age 16, from Hudson, Ohio
Sidekicks: Parents, twin sister Maggie and Akron Children’s Doggie Brigade program (sponsored by Milk-Bone), especially therapy dog Francis.
When he’s not busy overcoming obstacles: Jack plays the cymbals in Hudson High School’s marching band, is active in student government and drama club.
Did you know fact: Jack was one of the first patients Doggie Brigade member Francis worked with during his first day on the job as a therapy dog.
Why Jack is a #ACHero: During his sophomore year of high school, Jack Lehman was diagnosed with acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM), a rare autoimmune disease, which nearly took his life. Through hours of rehabilitation and incredible determination, Jack learned to breathe, eat and walk again, making a remarkable recovery.
Jack’s Story: Coming down with the flu was not the gift Jack Lehman was hoping for on his 15th birthday. For the next week, his flu-like symptoms persisted and new symptoms surfaced – neck pain and loss of balance. Concerned, his mother Janie took Jack to Akron Children’s Emergency Department for an evaluation.
Jack was diagnosed with acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM), a rare autoimmune disease that attacked nerves from his brain all the way down to his spine, and was admitted to the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU).
Jack’s condition quickly worsened – and by the next day, he quit breathing and doctors had to do an emergency intubation.
“The doctors gave us a plan for his recovery,” said Janie. “The most pressing goal was to get his lungs, diaphragm and other muscles close to his lungs strong enough for him to breathe on his own.”
Jack was given a powerful steroid to reduce inflammation to help him recover. Jack was on a ventilator for 35 days and in the PICU for 38 days. Although breathing, he was still unable to raise or lower his arms and legs so there was a concern he was paralyzed.
Jack was transferred from the PICU to inpatient rehab where new challenges awaited him, but it was a welcomed change for Jack.
“Everyone kept me in the loop on what was going on and how I was doing,” said Jack. “They spoke to me, not just my parents, so I knew what to expect, what I needed to do and why I was doing something.”
Jack was in rehab every day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. where he had one-to-one occupational and physical therapy sessions.
“Jack’s therapists were so positive and encouraging. It was exactly what he needed,” said Janie. “He had to relearn everything – drinking, eating, feeding, walking…Rehab really helped him take charge of his life again.”
Jack continued his grueling training sessions in day rehab, adding more intense exercises as he improved.
“Inpatient rehab was the toughest time of my life,” said Jack. “The therapists wouldn’t let me quit. They pushed me, but not more than I could handle…They told me I can’t isn’t in their vocabulary yet I can’t thank them enough for what they did.”
Part of Jack’s therapy also included working with the Doggie Brigade.
“The dogs were a very comforting and motivating presence for me,” said Jack. “I worked with 4 dogs, each with a unique personality…I still carry pictures of their trading cards in my wallet today.”
After 77 days in the hospital, Jack came home.
“They (Akron Children’s doctors, nurses and therapists) saved his life and they did it with extraordinary compassion and care …we’re forever grateful,” said Janie.
Jack attended therapy sessions all summer and, by September, was ready to march alongside his friends in Hudson High School’s marching band.
“I’ll never forget the sight of Jack in the middle of the drum line at the first football game of the season,” said Janie. “Knowing what he had been through and to see him marching with those cymbals…it was so inspirational. He’s truly a remarkable young man.”