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Surviving a mystery

Senior recovers from lengthy, unknown affliction

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He kept his eyes closed and calmed his breathing, trying to keep claustrophobia from consuming him. Senior Blake Boehle stayed as still as possible as the MRI began, scanning his brain and upper spine. He was forced to ignore the intense pain surging through his joints, and he struggled to suppress the twitches that were nearly a constant part of his life. He began to let his mind wander. The first thing he thought of was his MOB friends, off at Disney World, while he was stuck in this machine.

“I started thinking, ‘Is this going to be my life? Everyone around me is doing all these fun things, and I’m stuck doing procedures and tests at hospitals,’” Blake said. “That was probably my lowest moment.”

• • •

A few months prior, a light pink shaded the sky as the day drew to an end, and the Boehle family took their dogs for their routine walk around the neighborhood. Blake was in charge of walking Lucy, the youngest dog, as she liked to pull and tug ahead of the group.

As she found her way against a chain link fence and through the dim trailway, she jumped back in surprise.
Blake and his parents, Candace and Kevin Boehle began to inspect the area with their phones, illuminating the ground in search for whatever may have spooked their dog. When they found nothing, they continued on with their walk, but a sharp pain filled Blake’s left side. They assumed it was some sort of bee or wasp sting.

“I’ve been stung before and it was fine. I had a normal reaction,” Blake said. “But as we continued on that trail… I kept saying how it was starting to hurt more and more.”

An hour after going home and taking some Benadryl, Blake developed a twitch. He would quickly curl his upper body inwards, as if he was flinching away from a punch. While his pain wasn’t debilitating, it was persistent. This caused concern to settle in, and they decided to drive to the emergency room.

At first glance, the doctors seemed to assume Candace and Kevin were only paranoid, over-protective parents, so they brushed off Blake’s symptoms as a simple bee sting. He was given more and more Benadryl, but his twitching managed to wake him before he could fall asleep.

After a sluggish and drowsy ride home, Blake was too tired to make the journey upstairs to his bedroom, and decided to crash on the couch instead. Little did he know, this was where he’d be spending most of his time for the next eight months.

• • •

Over the next few weeks, Blake’s symptoms began to worsen. Weakness plagued his muscles, and he developed serious nerve pain. He could only take a few steps before his legs gave out, and he resorted to crawling to get around the house. At one point, it even affected his speech.

“He would have episodes where he couldn’t talk,” Candace said. “He would try so hard to get the words out, he would just stutter and stammer and it would break your heart.”

Kevin, Blake’s father, is a doctor and he was just as baffled as the several neurologists and allergists they saw. None could find a definitive answer. The only thing they could be certain of was the facts — he was in pain, and he wasn’t showing any signs of recovery.

“It’s kind of a scary feeling when you go to the doctor and they tell you, ‘He should get better. We think he’s going to get better, but we’ve never seen this before so we can’t promise you anything,’” Candace said.

Their best guess was that this was a reaction to a Southern yellowjacket’s venom.

Kevin said that once the venom was in Blake’s bloodstream, it started to attack and destroy the lining of his nerves. This is why on top of the twitching, Blake also felt the nerve pain and muscle weakness.

“Once it’s occurred, the nerve has to regrow the lining on the outside of it,” Kevin said. “It takes months to years to really do.”

The nerve pain began in his shoulders, moved to his elbows before shooting down to his wrists. The nerve pain made its way through every joint in his body throughout the months, until it finally reached his ankles.

“I’ve never felt more helpless in my life,” Candace said. “Because as a parent you want to do everything you can to make your child better.”

But there was nothing they could do. There was no way to know for sure if he was going to be okay. They could only stick it out through the next months, and figure out ways to accommodate Blake’s situation day by day.

Due to his debilitating pain and difficulty walking and speaking, Blake couldn’t attend school from September to April. To avoid falling behind, he began a homeschooling program called Homebound. An assigned teacher would visit him at home twice a week for two hours.

“We joked that I was there for the first four weeks of school, and the last four weeks of school,” Blake said. “I missed the rest of the year.”

Although he was on track with his studies, he wasn’t only missing classes. Blake was missing the high school experience—his friends, his freedom and his entire junior year.

• • •

On March 31, Blake celebrated his 17th birthday stuck inside his home. The small spasms had faded away, and he was getting a little better every week. But he still felt a lingering weight in his chest as he was confined to his familiar four walls.

Every couple of weeks, his friends from MOB, the broadcast journalism class, would visit to help him feel included. Senior Sara Edwards, a friend on staff, said they tried their best to keep his spirits up, and as this was no ordinary day, they decided to make this visit as fun as possible.

The first half of their celebration took place that morning. They brought homemade brownies and pizza, and gathered around Blake’s spot on the couch, squeezing in to watch the MOB show that they had just finished. It included a special shout out for Blake’s birthday, prompting viewers to send their best wishes to him.

But when the group left, Blake was alone once more. While he was improving, he still felt loneliness seep in as he watched his friends live their lives.

At the end of the school day, the MOB crowd surprised Blake with another visit. They ate the remaining goodies, joking with him and helping to lift his mood once more.

Candace said that their visits really helped him from settling into a depression.

“You’d see the old Blake, and even if it was a bad day, he would laugh so hard when they would come over,” Candace said. “It would kind of take it all away from him for a little bit.”

In April he started physical therapy, going two to three times a week until July.

“Starting off it was a little humiliating,” Blake said. “After months of the disease getting worse, I was just pitifully weak.”

Memories of freshman football filled his mind. Back then he could lift over 100 pounds, but now he struggled lifting two pounds. However, he fought to get better.

“We have a lot to be thankful for,” Kevin said. “It’s unfortunate that this happened but it really did pull us together.”

Blake is now in his final semester of his senior year, fully recovered. The entire experience has helped him and his parents find a new appreciation for life. Blake said that he learned that he is truly blessed to have such supportive and kind friends and family surrounding him.

“I definitely learned the power of human kindness,” Blake said. “Going through everyday life you don’t really notice it, but when times get tough, it’s awe-inspiring to see what people are willing to do for others.”

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Surviving a mystery