Two years ago Eric Schools of Houlton was vacationing with his family in Old Orchard Beach. They had rented a house and were making the most of their time together. On the third night, August 11, 2014, Eric’s left leg began to feel heavy; like it was falling asleep. He had done a lot of walking that day and thought it might just be fatigue so he decided to go lay down. He couldn’t know that this family trip would change his life forever. 

“I had tried to walk it off but I really had no control over my leg,” Eric said. “After I went to lie down I started to feel a really sharp pain on the left side of my abdomen.”

Eric’s then-fiancée Kira made arrangements for some relatives to watch the children and she took him to Southern Maine Medical Center in Biddeford. While he was in the waiting room Eric began to feel the toes in his other leg begin to tingle and it also slowly began to go numb.

Eris and Kira Schools, 2015 (Facebook)

Doctors did a series of tests but had no answers. The next morning Eric was sent to Maine Medical Center in Portland. After several MRI’s, CT Scans, and a spinal tap to rule out Meningitis, doctors noticed that Eric had two bulging discs and fluid in his spine. It was diagnosed as a spinal cord infarction, which is a stroke either within the spinal cord or the arteries that supply it and it can be caused by a thickening or closing of the major arteries to the spinal cord.

Eric said the doctors debated whether to perform surgery to repair the discs but in the end they decided that it was more of a risk than a reward. He was prescribed steroids to reduce the swelling and was told that the best option would be physical therapy.

“I spent about a week in Portland but the therapists were spread so thin that they were only able to spend about an hour a day with me,” Schools said. “We started looking for a rehabilitation facility in Bangor but then someone told me that TAMC in Presque Isle offered rehab.”

Eric Schools Faith (GoFundMe)

Eric arrived at TAMC in a wheelchair, determined to make it as short a stay as possible. He said, “My wife and I were engaged at the time. I told her that I wanted to walk down the aisle a month after I leave the hospital. She thought I was crazy.”

“When we first evaluated Eric it took two of us to assist him to move from one surface to another and stand in the parallel bars,” said Heather Caron, MSPT, manager of TAMC’s Acute Rehab Unit. “He had no feeling in his legs and used his arms to support all of his weight; if he tried to put too much weight through his legs they buckled underneath him.”

“I know they did a lot of one-on-one with me, probably because I was extra motivated. I needed help with everything. It took all I had just to take a step,” said Eric. “There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about one aspect of my treatment and what everyone did for me there. I live with this feeling so I constantly think about it.”

When Eric says that he ‘lives with this feeling,’ it’s the truth. To this day he has no feeling in his legs. The therapists and staff in TAMC’s Acute Rehab Unit had to train Eric how to use his legs again, without being able to feel them. The sensation may return over time but sometimes nerve damage just doesn’t heal.

“It was so exciting to watch Eric progress and achieve success with each new activity. Eric went home ahead of schedule, largely because his family was such a huge part of his rehabilitation. Family training was easy because his care was close to home in Aroostook County,” said Caron.

Eric Schools, a former patient of TAMC’s Acute Rehab Unit, poses at his desk at York’s of Houlton where he works as a finance and insurance manager

Schools said, “When I left TAMC on crutches four weeks later it was a huge accomplishment. People around here don’t realize that if they get hurt and are shipped downstate, they can come back here to TAMC for rehab. It’s more of a tight-knit environment and it’s more convenient because it’s closer for your family to come visit. I try to stop in to say hello when I’m in town because I miss them. It’s kind of like they’re a part of my family.”

That ‘family’ that Eric speaks of is having a reunion of sorts on Wednesday, September 21, an occasion in which Eric is playing a pretty significant role.

“We work very closely with our patients and their families and we get very connected to them—their success is our success!” said Caron. “This reunion is for all of our former Acute Rehab patients, because they are like an extension of our family and we miss them. Eric will be a part of our panel discussion. We’ll also have social time with our team and tours of the unit and new therapy facilities.”

September 18 - 24 is recognized as National Rehabilitation Awareness Week. For more information on the Acute Rehabilitation Reunion, please contact Heather Caron at 768-4083.

The Schools family (front row, l to r) Esmé, Harlow, and Aliya. (Middle row, l to r) Abigail, wife Kira, and Landon. (Back row, l to r) Hailey and Eric.

Eric Schools is happy to be back to work and living as normal a life as possible. He lives in Houlton with his six children. Oh, and about that promise:

“Kira and I were married on October 25, 2014. Life’s too short not to do things you’ve planned.”

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