John Henry’s Story

In September of 2006, 9 year-old John Henry Romano was playing with his cousin on Long Island. As the two boys exchanged laughter and jokes, armed robbers broke into the Inwood home and ordered everyone to hand over their valuables. In a matter of seconds the burglary escalated to a terrifying shootout between the homeowner and one of the intruders. John Henry, caught in the crossfire, was struck by a bullet in the head.

The bullet that hit John Henry entered though his eye and rendered him partially paralyzed. He was rushed to an acute care hospital for extensive brain surgery. His family was told he would lose his eye and was unlikely to ever walk again.

This fateful day will always remain a stain in his family’s hearts, but some of their pain was eased when they found hope at St. Mary’s Healthcare System for Children.

John Henry was brought to St. Mary’s for intensive rehabilitation. Upon his arrival, John Henry was unable to move his head or limbs and couldn’t even open his mouth. He was admitted to St. Mary’s Traumatic Brain Injury and Coma Recovery Program, the first certified post-acute pediatric TBI program in the New York Metropolitan area. Five months later, John Henry Romano walked out of St. Mary’s on his own two feet.

Therapists particularly focused on Henry’s ‘trunk strength,” which is the ability to use abdominal and lower back muscles to support parts of the body continuously over time without giving up or exhausting your body. Every step for Henry was a painful one, but staff members knew each step would bring him closer to his goals.

Henry was petrified to sit, stand or sleep and therapists slowly and gently started to get him into a sitting or standing position, trying to decrease his anxiety. Training him to use one eye by making him scan the room to find things, therapists were preparing Henry for his release and wanted to ensure he would be ready for the challenges ahead he might face.

Through Henry’s defiance and struggle, therapists spent endless hours determined to get him back on track and eventually Henry regained his ability to chew and swallow.

Within months, John Henry had learned to propel himself in a wheelchair, walk with a cane, and on his 10th birthday, he raised his leg for the first time.

Upon his release from St. Mary’s John Henry’s mother said of St. Mary’s and their staff, “They work miracles.”

John Henry Romano, now 10 years-old, continues to receive home care services from St. Mary’s within the comfort of his home. He attends school, still loves sports, and participates in adapted PE class. What doctors thought would be impossible, St. Mary’s made possible.