by Denise Civiletti
(Updated: June 27) Michael Hubbard is coming home to Riverhead today.
Even though the completion of the Brendan House is still months away, Michael will be moving into a room at Peconic Bay Medical Center's skilled nursing facility, where he will live until the group home being renovated by New Beginnings Community Center in Riverhead is ready for occupancy, his mother Nancy Reyer said yesterday.
"I'm elated," Reyer said. "I'm crying but these are good tears."
Blythedale Children's Hospital in Valhalla, where Michael has been a patient since September 2011, recently told Reyer she'd have to make arrangements for her son at a long-term care facility.
Michael, who was critically burned by an exploding gel firepot on May 28, 2011, suffered traumatic brain injury nine days later when he went into cardiac arrest as a result of his severe burns. While Michael has made strides in his recovery far beyond what doctors initially predicted, his mother said, his condition still requires a high level of medical care. The only long-term care facility willing and able to take him was in Albany, said Reyer, who has been at his side nearly 24/7 since his injury.
When PBMC Health president and CEO Andrew Mitchell heard Michael would have to be moved to Albany pending completion of the New Beginnings home, he asked the administrator of the hospital's skilled nursing facility to see if Michael could be transferred there.
"It was such a terrible tragedy and they've been through so much," Mitchell said. "So I thought maybe we can help." The skilled nursing facility is currently used more as a rehab facility for patients recovering from joint replacement surgeries, he said.
"But this is consistent with our mission of service to our community," Mitchell said, noting that PBMC Health's tagline sums up that mission, "the knowledge of experts and the compassion of neighbors."
Reyer, who's been sleeping on a couch next to Michael's hospital bed [see video], said it means the world to her to be able to return home to Riverhead.
"I'll be able to get the rest that I need and I'll be able to enjoy my mother, who is turning 92 in July," she said. "My family will be able to see Michael without the travel expenses, and he'll get to see everyone more often, especially my grand-nieces and -nephews," Reyer said.
Michael, who turns 17 in August, had his final skin graft surgery — of multiple surgeries — last week at Stony Brook University Hospital. Surgeons replaced a portion of his chin and part of his ear, which were burned off when the firepot exploded in his face, slathering him with its flaming gel contents.
He is being transported to Stony Brook today to have his stitches removed, Reyer said.
After that's completed, Michael will be brought to PBMC, she said.
The transfer to Riverhead has been in the works for a few weeks, Reyer said. PBMC had to make sure the SNF was able to meet Michael's needs. Two nurses from the SNF even visited Michael at Blythedale yesterday to be sure, she said.
"We needed to make sure we could provide him with the care he requires," said Ron McManus, PBMC senior vice president and SNF administrator said.
"I'm so grateful to Mr. Mitchell and everyone at PBMC for being able to do this," Reyer said. "It's just amazing."
Photo captions: (Top) Michael Hubbard at Blythedale Children's Hospital June 26. (Bottom) Michael Hubbard as he traveled from Stony Brook Hospital back to Blythedale Children's Hospital following surgery to repair his chin and ear earlier this month. RiverheadLOCAL photos courtesy of Nancy Reyer.