A laurel wreath for Jack

Published: April 20, 2004
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Paralyzed teen finished marathon on stationary bike

The 26-mile Boston Marathon is considered the granddaddy of all marathons where there are hundreds of stories of personal triumphs. A Braintree teen, who is paralyzed from the neck down, is celebrating the completion of his own marathon: pedaling a stationary bike for the equivalent of 26 miles.

Surrounded by members of a marathon running club and his family in the recreation room of the Massachusetts Hospital School in Canton, Jack Shadduck was applauded as he completed the 26th mile on the bike, a fete no one thought possible two years ago.

The 15-year-old Braintree High School freshman’s achievement is being credited to a pilot program to help quadriplegics regain some strength and movement.

The accomplishment brought tears, smiles and applause from the over a dozen people gathered in the room. Jack’s beaming smile was only equaled by Sue Sheehy, who developed the First Five program.

Jack is one of five members of the project which involves various exercises that help reverse atrophied muscles.

Sheehy developed the program after her son sustained a spinal cord injury which left him paralyzed. Despite months of Physical Therapy, she found no improvement in her son’s condition. This prompted her to develop a regimen of various exercises geared toward awakening sleeping muscles and nerves.

“I wasn’t happy with the Rehabilitation,” Sheehy said. “After my son started my program, his body responded. This started the (First Five) model.”

First Five started last September. The name comes from the fact there are five members of the project and that Motor movement is measured from 1 through 5, the latter being the best.

Patients are engaged in various exercises and use weights, a ball, and a stationary bicycle that sends electric impulses to stimulate muscles. Sheehy said each patient has a tailored program.

Jack was paralyzed two years ago as a result of a rare virus that attacked his nervous system. Since then, he has undergone various physical therapy programs. He has been confined to a wheelchair and connected to a Ventilator. Jack uses a “sip and puff” wheelchair which is controlled by him puffing into or drawing air from a tube.

Last January, Jack enrolled in First Five. As will all patients in the program, short term goals must be set.

“Jack had two goals,” Sheehy said. “To be off the ventilator and go from the sip and puff wheelchair to a joystick control.”

Jack’s regimen includes exercises such as placing his arm on a skateboard and moving it back and forth. Another involves him grabbing the handle of a weighted wheeled device and pushing and pulling it.

Other exercises are centered around improving his breathing and stimulating his muscles. Pulmonary exercises include playing a harmonica while the stationary bike targets the cardiovascular system and muscles.

The important element of Jack’s program is the Stim Master bicycle. It is a stationary bike with electrodes that are attached to Jack’s legs. Wires send sequential currents of electricity from the bike’s computer to his legs which stimulate the muscles and helps them move.

With Jack’s feet placed on the pedals, a therapist rotates the wheels by hand. After a rhythm is established, the computer kicks in and fires off electric impulses to keep the legs moving.

After four months of participation, the First Five program has proved successful for Jack.

Sheehy said the bike provided 99 percent stimulation to move Jack’s legs when he initially started the program. Now, Jack requires just about 50 percent stimulation.

Jack is seeing his goals coming to fruition.

He is now off the ventilator and is scheduled to have his tracheotomy removed in June. Jack’s arms have strengthened to a point that he has been able to practice controlling his wheelchair with a joystick.

There have been other signs of improvements in Jack’s condition. His blood pressure and circulation are better, muscles are developing bulk and his lungs have more capacity.

“Jack’s hands were usually cold,” Sheehy said. “Now, there are warm.”

Jack’s mother noticed his stronger legs.

“His leg muscles have built up significantly,” Marie Shadduck said.

Sheehy’s other patients have nothing but praise for the First Five program.

Nathan, who wants to be a radio sportscaster, said his balance and dexterity have improved after six months of therapy.

“I can pull a soda out of the machine now,” he said.

Jack and his father Joe Shadduck decided to help expand the First Five program and came up with the idea of the marathon as part of a fundraising drive to raise $50,000. First Five is under the auspices of the New England Spinal Cord Initiative and the Travis Roy Foundation. The latter is named after the Boston University hockey player who was paralyzed after sustaining a spinal cord injury during a game. The initiative includes 35 doctors, professionals and spinal cord injury patients.

Last Tuesday, (April 13), Jack began his 26 mile trek. Over two subsequent nights, he pedaled 22 miles. On Thursday night (April 15), he completed the last four miles.

During the “run,” Sheehy put up a map outlining the Boston Marathon route. As Jack reached a certain mile, Sheehy would point out he would be in a particular location such as Wellesley or Heartbreak Hill.

“I would give a description of where he would be in the Boston Marathon,” Sheehy said.

Jack’s high school classmate Pat McGovern and therapist, Melissa Ryan joined the Shaddocks for the final push to the finish. All eyes were glued to the bike’s digital odometer and large numerals were displayed on the wall behind Jack counting the miles.

As Jack neared the 26 mile mark, his mother, Marie, and brother, Craig, stretched a yellow finish line ribbon in front of him. When the odometer hit 26, applause erupted and Jack bit the ribbon and tore it in half. Marie placed a laurel wreath on Jack’s head as Ryan lifted his arm in triumph.

Jack said his ability to pedal 26 miles is proof the First Five program works.

“I am so overwhelmed how well it went,” he said. “It’s a great accomplishment for the program and myself.”

Sheehy said the program provides hope for quadriplegics. Although there is no cure yet for spinal cord injuries, she said by setting subsequent short term goals, patients can measure improvements and then go on to the next step.

“There are no finish lines,” Sheehy said.