Everything happens for a reason, and for a 16-year-old Revere High School student, being struck with rare neuro-muscular disease has helped him figure out what he wants to do when he graduates.
“I want to be a child life specialist,” said Justin Ith, 16, who was released from Franciscan Hospital for Children in Brighton last Thursday. “I feel like there is no way to repay everyone who helped me. I can help kids cope. I know what it’s like.”
Ith was struck by the disease on his 16th birthday last year on March 7. He remembers he had felt tired the week before. Then one day he took a nap and woke up with nausea and vomiting. His father, Tito, took him to the doctor where he was treated for nausea. Another week passed and he had a strange and painful feeling in his legs and the vomiting continued. While he was in the bathroom his legs gave out. He was in pain.
He was home alone and tried to get up but couldn’t.
“I yelled for help and finally my aunt, who lives downstairs, heard me,” Ith explained. “We drove to Children’s Hospital with me in a wheelchair. I was terrified. I had never been that sick.”
He remembers being admitted. His pain increased and alarms started going off. The next thing he knew he was in intensive care with an emergency tracheotomy and a ventilator to help him breathe.
“I was so scared. My dad went home to take a shower and they called him back in,” Ith said.
While he was lying in bed Ith said he remembers thinking this would be the last time he’d see their faces.
“I thought I was going to die and that my dad wouldn’t make it back in time,” Ith said.
Then Ith met Dr. James Mandell, who suggested a biopsy of the kidney be done. The results showed that Ith had lupus and the rare syndrome was the result. For the next months Ith was treated and put on a therapy schedule to get him walking and talking again.
“It took a long time with slow peaks,” Ith said. “They would give me IVs and then I would feel good. Then I’d feel bad again and have more IVs. Then one day I had the IVs and I started to feel good.”
Ith admits that at first he had no hope. His anxiety level kept going up. He pushed himself and made up his mind to stay as positive as possible.
“I was shocked when they told me I was going home,” Ith said. “I remember going to sleep and thinking that I actually made it.”
He admits that coming home was bittersweet.
“It was hard leaving and saying goodbye to people,” Ith said. “We worked on having a good bond and we’re best friends.”
Ith was such an inspiration to hospital staff that they decided to award him with the Profile in Children’s Courage Award at a gala dinner held this past November. He kept up with his school work with the help of tutors and contact with his guidance counselor. Ith would like to attend college either at Wheelock College or UMass Amherst. His plan is to go on to grad school and then work as a child life specialist.