Thirteen-year-old Mathew was well-known as a baseball prodigy in the Little League community. A versatile player, the talented teen hit more than 70 home runs in one year alone. The road that led him to Blythedale is heart-breaking, but his tenacity and courage in the face of adversity has led to an extraordinary recovery.
Mathew suffered life-threatening injuries when a quick-moving fire swept through his family's home on New Year's Day. While attempting to save his younger brother's life, Mathew sustained inhalation injuries and third-degree burns to more than 65% of his body. Following six weeks of intensive care, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, and multiple skin graft surgeries at the Burn Center at NYP Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center, Mathew's condition had stabilized enough for him to be transported to Blythedale for comprehensive burn and wound care and intensive rehabilitation.
Upon admission, Mathew was in an extremely weakened state. His pain was acute and he suffered from anxiety. He was immediately immersed in a daily regimen of physical and occupational therapy to help increase his range of motion and prevent skin and muscle contractures. He was regularly fit with splints, to prevent tightening while he slept. A pain management protocol ensured that he was kept comfortable, and daily sessions with a Child Life specialist helped Mathew work through the grief and trauma of losing his brother. Mathew's athletic nature served him well in recovery and he, alongside his extremely attentive and encouraging parents, made quick gains. Mathew was fit with specialized pressure garments to promote healing and his parents received extensive training in his complicated skin care. The therapies, including scar massage and stretching, are painful, but Mathew's therapists quickly learned to utilize his love of sports, particularly baseball, to keep him engaged and focused.
Lisa Ross, Mathew's occupational therapist, focused on functional outcomes in his therapy. She devised ways to enable the teen to assume responsibility for self care again, such as adapting a toothbrush with a larger handle so Mathew would not have to employ a tight grasp. Lisa also shares Mathew's love of baseball, and when the teen was invited to throw out the first pitch at a Mets game this spring, she used the opportunity to expand his therapy. From the initial challenge of grasping a foam baseball to achieving the necessary range of motion needed to propel a hardball the correct distance, the pair worked daily in order to get him prepared. Mathew also needed to build his endurance as smoke inhalation greatly affected his breathing.
"We look at what motivates each patient, and how we can apply that motivation to improve function," said Ross.
He loves baseball so much, and he was so focused on getting it right that I think he began to overlook the pain and discomfort.
Ross also credits Mathew's devoted parents for the critical role they have played in his recovery.
"The family carryover is huge," she said. "Mathew has such a wonderful support system, and they are so dedicated to his care."
She is also grateful for what Mathew has taught her, from his courage throughout the healing process to the challenges he sets for himself and his determination to succeed.
On April 21, 2015, Mathew threw a perfect strike across the plate at Citi Field, much to the delight of his proud clinical team. (Click here to see video footage.) Mathew was discharged home the following month, but continued to attend Blythedale's Day Hospital, as therapy is crucial for the first two years following severe burns. Eager to return to the ball field and resume his career, there is little doubt that Mathew will do whatever it takes to achieve his dream.