Bob Beliveau’s Story

Fairlawn | 1.5.16

“I thought it was the beginning of the end.”

That’s how Bob Beliveau said he felt when a disease he had never even heard of made it impossible for him to speak, walk or even swallow.

The first sign that something was wrong came when his left eyelid would just unexpectedly close. Then, he began having some trouble chewing and talking. And finally, one day while teaching his second graders at the Bancroft School in Worcester, Bob just couldn’t catch his breath or hold up his head. Within the hour, he was in the ER at UMass Medical Center.

Myasthenia gravis, an incurable and progressive autoimmune disorder, had caused the gradual decline in Bob’s neuromuscular system. Intubated and in the medical center’s ICU, he began to wonder where this was all going to take him — whether he would “ever walk, speak or be a normal human being again.”

Prognosis

Fortunately, Bob learned that although myasthenia gravis is not curable, with medication, most people with the disease can return to their previous life’s work and activities.

For Bob, that would be his roles as a husband, father and teacher. “Other than my family, my greatest passion in life has always been teaching children,” said Bob in a recent interview. “I love watching them develop and enjoy having fun with them.”

But before he could even consider teaching again, he needed to get strong enough to return home with Yola, his wife of 35 years. So once medically stable, he was transferred to Fairlawn.

Teaching was Bob’s passion. Returning to the classroom was his primary goal during rehabilitation.

The hardest part for Bob was not being able to speak. “It was the hardest thing because that’s what I do — I teach. And as a teacher, you have to model good speech,” he said. “That was my passion, and I couldn’t do it.”

That, along with being unable to do even the simplest of things on his own — “like getting up to use the bathroom or get glass of water” — led to depression. “I had periods when I would cry all the time. That was so unlike me. I was the kind of person who always saw the glass half full, not half empty,” he said.

So Bob’s treatment team immediately began addressing the emotional and physical aspects of his illness. His OT, along with working on his upper body strength, used Bob’s love for painting as a means to improve both his motor control and his spirit.

“She went out of her way to bring in art materials so I could practice my painting and calligraphy. By doing that, she helped me regain confidence in my ability to my art again,” he said.

Meanwhile, his two hours of daily speech therapy focused on advancing his articulation and swallowing. Physical therapy worked to improve his muscle strength so he could walk and climb stairs again.

“Everyone — from my doctors and nurses to all my therapists — was patient, kind and encouraging,” he said. “One nurse in particular lifted my spirits whenever she came in my room. She always assured me that I would be fine.”
After inpatient discharge, Bob went to Fairlawn’s outpatient center for speech and physical therapy. “My primary goal remained returning to teaching,” he said, “and they helped me every step of the way.”

Six months after the onset of his illness, Bob realized that goal by teaching in the Worcester Partnership summer program for inner city children. “When I got home, the first thing my wife said to me was, ‘You’ve got your smile back.’”

Bob finds relaxation in his resumed pastimes of painting and calligraphy.


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