Michael Hubbard and his family: grandmother Evelyn Reyer, mom Nancy Reyer, standing right, and in back row, cousin Kris Smalls and aunt and uncle, Fran and Curtis Johnson. Photo: Peter Blasl

Michael Hubbard turned 20 today.

It was the sixth birthday he spent in the hospital, the place he’s called home since his young life was permanently altered on May 28, 2011, when a “gel candle” exploded in his face as he helped his family set up for a backyard party.

As they do every year on Aug. 16, Michael’s friends and family marked his birthday with cake he can’t eat and candles he can’t blow out — so severe were his injuries from the explosion. (He suffered third-degree burns over 40 percent of his body and had severe brain injury from going into cardiac arrest as a result of the burns.) Michael gets nourishment from a feeding tube. With great effort, he speaks a few words. He smiles a lot. It’s not clear how much he understands of what’s going on around him.

But he is well cared-for at Peconic Bay Medical Center’s Skilled Nursing Facility in Riverhead, his mother Nancy Reyer said. And he’s well-loved. Michael had his mother, as well as his grandmother, aunt, uncle and cousin surround him today to sing “Happy Birthday” and give him presents. They were joined by his new extended family at the hospital: the nurses and therapists and other staff members who care for — and fawn over him each day. Hospital president Andy Mitchell stopped in as well.

Michael’s a popular guy in the Skilled Nursing Facility. Staff there gave him a special birthday t-shirt they had made for him. It said “Happy Birthday- We love you and love your family” and it was signed by all the SNF staffers.

“They take such great care of him here,” Reyer said. “Today was our way of thanking the staff for all their love.”

Michael’s made a lot of progress since he was moved to PBMC in June 2013, his mother reports. It was supposed to be a temporary stop-over, between Blythedale Children’s Hospital and the Brendan House, a home on Sound Avenue being renovated by New Beginnings Community Center in Medford for use as a group home for brain-injured adults. But Reyer says she’s changed her mind about that. With the level of care he still needs, she said, a group home is probably not an appropriate setting for him.

So Michael will stay at PBMC indefinitely, she said.

“Andy told me that PBMC’s Skilled Nursing Facility will be there for Michael as long as we want or need it,” she said.

“Michael will not be moving into the Brendan House,” Reyer said. “I want to thank all the Riverhead residents and groups that donated money and services to help make the Brendan House a reality,” Reyer said. “We so appreciate the support and love our hometown community has shown,” she said. “And we always will.”

Michael Hubbard and members of the PBMC Skilled Nursing Facility Staff who care for him. Photo: Peter Blasl
Michael Hubbard and members of the PBMC Skilled Nursing Facility Staff who care for him. Photo: Peter Blasl

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Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.