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15-year-old Cavs fan from Hudson beating rare autoimmune disease that hospitalized him for 77 days

Posted at 10:46 PM, Jun 10, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-10 23:06:45-04

Shortly after sinking several baskets during a physical therapy session, Jack Lehman made a comparison between the intensity of the NBA Finals and his personal battle to regain mobility and strength.

"It's going to be long road to recovery. It might come to a Game 7," he laughed. "But I think I'll make a full recovery."

Lehman, a 15-year-old Cavs fan who attends Hudson High School, spent 77 days at Akron Children's Hospital with a rare autoimmune disease called Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis (ADEM).

In February, the teen began experiencing flu-like symptoms, including aches, pain and nausea.

But a few days later, he was having trouble standing and experiencing neck pain.

"I was a bit scared especially at first. I just had no idea what was going on."

He slowly lost his ability to walk, move his arms and swallow.

Pediatric Intensive Care Physician Dr. Michael Bigham said Jack's symptoms continued to worsen in the hospital as he became more confused and suffered seizures. The situation turned life-threatening.

Dr. Bigham said ADEM is a difficult disease to manage and Jack was placed on a breathing tube and machine to help support his brain.

"In simple terms, his body was exposed to a viral infection several weeks prior to this visit to the hospital," Dr. Bigham said. "A near-death experience like this for a really bright 15-year-old is frightening."

Fast forward a few months later, Jack has made remarkable progress.

He reports to Akron Children's five days a week for physical and occupational therapy. 

Jack uses a cane for added support while therapists held build his balance and strength. In addition, therapy dogs give him extra motivation to exercise.

"They make a huge difference. They're a comforting presence. They make me more motivated.

The teen plans to watch Game 4 of the NBA Finals-- and the remaining games-- from home and he's feeling optimistic.

"I have high hopes for tonight and I think we'll do well and I think we'll win the series."

Dr. Bigham also believes the Cavs will win it all and sees a parallel between the team and Jack's battle to get his life back.

"I would liken Games 1 and 2 of the NBA finals to Jack's first 15 or 30 days in the ICU where he was on the losing end," he said. "I would liken the subsequent 30 day at Akron Children's Hospital to Game 3 where he began to make some steady recoveries... I think Jack's complete recovery is going to be his parallel of an NBA championship."