BOERNE, Texas – A Boerne Champion High School senior who was paralyzed by a common cold in 2017 surprised his classmates and the close-knit Boerne community on Thursday when he got out of his wheelchair and crossed the stage with the help of a walker and his two therapists.
Sherri Smith said her son, Mason Smith, was a normal, healthy child until Jan. 13, 2017. She said Mason had a cold the first week of January and "it wasn't even remarkable."
But then he woke up one morning and felt different.
"He woke up and felt something weird in his back and was paralyzed within 15 minutes," Smith said.
Doctors diagnosed her son with acute flaccid myelitis, a rare condition that researchers have linked to the common cold, among other external factors and diseases, according to Spine Universe's Dr. Joshua Ammerman.
Smith said that, while many individuals affected by the virus cannot attempt any radical movements for months, Mason immediately asked what he had to do to get out of the hospital and set out to complete the listed tasks.
In 22 days, Mason learned how to get into a car from his wheelchair, dress himself and get into and out of bed, among other tasks, his mother said. Prior to the onset of the condition, Mason played the trumpet for his high school marching band.
His illness didn't stop him from traveling with the band to Disney World and appearing in the parade that year. His mother said he also became the voice of the marching band, taking on the role of narrator.
Smith said said Mason, an Advanced Placement student, took 19 tests during the final weeks of his junior year so he would be able to graduate with his classmates.
Staying on track to graduate on time was no easy feat for Mason, whose classes included AP physics and AP calculus, but it was made possible by a supportive school and community, his mother said.
Smith said teachers would stop by their home to keep Mason on track with the curriculum and that members of the community helped by cooking dinner for her family for four months.
With a husband who has Parkinson's disease, a son who is away at college and another who doesn't know how to drive, she said that, when Mason became ill, she wasn't sure how she would manage.
"I don't know if they know just how much of a difference they made and how much they have impacted us, him, my entire family," Smith said via phone Friday. "Without them, we could not have made it through this. I'll see moms in the grocery store, and they've held me when I have cried. I am grateful and I am honored to live among these people. They're the best this world has to offer."
Smith said the progress Mason has made in 16 months has been remarkable. For Mother's Day, Mason got up on his own, grabbed his walker and walked into the kitchen to wish her a happy Mother's Day.
At the end of his junior year, Mason made it a goal to walk across the stage for graduation.
Smith said he took on the same AP course load his senior year and scheduled his physical therapy sessions two to three times a week in the morning so he could attend class and worked with his physical therapists.
"We put him in a harness and (the physical therapists) would have to move his legs, so he has worked tirelessly -- locomotive training and just, it's exhausting. It's hard. He gets tired, but he gets back in there and does it again."
Smith said she was worried Mason might not be able to meet his goal, but on Thursday, he walked across the stage with the assistance of his walker and two therapists, Selina Morgan and Crystal Kellar.
The feat drew roaring cheers and a standing ovation from his classmates and those who attended the graduation.
Mason graduated in the top 15 percent of his class and will pursue legal studies at Texas A&M University, where his older brother, Monty Smith, currently studies.
Smith said that in another year, their younger brother, Marshall Smith, will join them there.