SA Teen: 'My lips turned purple, for a little bit they thought I was gone'

Rueben Singleterry, 15, bounces back after deadly illness

SAN ANTONIO – A San Antonio teenager beat an illness that almost took his life, and now, he's still taking on obstacles doctors said he'd never overcome.

Last Labor Day, what 15-year-old Rueben Singleterry thought was the flu, turned into a spiking fever, migraines and disorientation.

"He didn't recognize me. He finally started coming to, still not fully himself. He jumped up and the only word he could make out was 'scared,'" said Rueben's mom, Roxanne Niehus.

Niehus called an ambulance and had him rushed to the hospital.

"I remember my grandparents were with me. They saw one of my worst seizures," Rueben said. "All the nurses were running in. My lips turned purple and for a little bit they thought I was gone. They thought they lost me. I believe I died that morning but God gave me a second chance."

"For the next four days we lost my son basically," Niehus said. "He was given a medication to completely knock him out because the seizures wouldn't stop. He had high fevers, uncontrollably high fevers, broke out with rashes, he lost his vision, his ability to eat, his ability to move."

On his fifth day in ICU, doctors diagnosed Rueben with viral encephalitis, meaning inflammation of the brain.

"It can be triggered by a virus like strep. Ruben had strep. Chicken pox is another one," Niehus said.

There's no cure and the symptoms could return.

Rueben spent 11 days in the ICU, and many days after that in physical therapy. He missed months of his freshman year of high school as he tried to recover.

Today, Rueben is still living with his seizure disorder caused by the encephalitis. The last seizure he had was just a month ago, but that still hasn't stop him from doing what he loves.

"I heard a doctor say that I probably wouldn't be able to walk the same anymore and that really broke me because I worked so hard that summer to play basketball," Rueben explained.

Basketball is Rueben's love in life, so he decided he'd beat the odds. He worked hard and eventually he relearned to walk, run, and jump and made his high school basketball team.

"I just tried to keep good thoughts in my head. And just live every day, and just be happy," he said.

Rueben's cousins who were moved by his battle made a documentary about the experience. That documentary was  just released within the week and already has thousands of views. Rueben and his family want the documentary to offer both awareness and hope to the community and beyond.

Niehus hopes other parents will learn about encephalitis and take its symptoms seriously. She also hopes Rueben will inspire others.

"In watching my son die and miraculously come back and be where he's at today, it's important to know that people can get through. People can overcome. We have to treat every day like it's our last and live it to the fullest, love to the fullest," Niehus said.

Rueben smiled and looked up, as he reflected on what he'd learned from this entire experience.

"Never give up," he said. "Ever."

To see the full documentary Rueben's cousins created, click here.


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