The milestones were small, but celebrated with the same enthusiasm of any parent viewing their child’s accomplishments.
Michael Hubbard’s days were spent on speech and physical therapy, a slow, methodical grind to regain even the smallest functions he once had prior to a 2011 gel candle accident left him severely injured. Through it all, his enduring smile never wavered. And his mother, Nancy Reyer, never left his side, never giving up hope that one day medical breakthroughs would allow Michael to grow up to be an independent man.
For a man who was once the class clown and a standout bowler, soccer player, and drummer in Riverhead, those dreams never did come to fruition. After declining health began just over a month ago, Michael died peacefully Friday night, his mother confirmed. He was 22.
“Michael has touched so many lives and Riverhead has become the biggest family a person could ask for,” Ms. Reyer said in an email last week as she prepared for her son’s final moments. “The love and support has been overwhelming these past eight years.”
In the years that followed his accident, the Riverhead community rallied around Michael for support through fundraisers and various events. In 2014, he was wheeled across the Riverhead High School graduation stage to receive an honorary diploma. He was the News-Review’s 2013 Person of the Year for his “inspirational, tenacious and contagious spirit.”
He spent his final six years in Riverhead at Peconic Bay Medical Center’s skilled nursing facility. His around-the-clock care at the facility was “above and beyond what I thought,” Ms. Reyer said in 2017.
For most of his eight years since the accident, Michael remained in good health and suffered little in terms of illness. Doctors had predicted he would suffer seizures, and those initially held off. Mr. Reyer said in 2017 that Michael sleeps well most nights and had been prescribed limited medications.
Michael’s injury helped bring change after Ms. Reyer filed litigation against Bed Bath & Beyond in 2012. The accident was caused by Michael lighting the gel candle that already had been lit. It didn’t appear to be lit, however, due to a nearly invisible flame. A New York appeals court ruled in 2017 that the product was defectively designed. The decision noted “even with adequate warnings, the fire pot and fuel gel, when used together, were so dangerous and were so defectively designed that their misuse was foreseeable.”
About six weeks ago, Michael’s health spiraled downhill as he began vomiting with high fevers followed by seizures. He had never had seizures, his mother said. At one point he suffered four in a 1/2-hour time. He began suffering from aspiration pneumonia, which is caused by bacteria affecting the lungs.
Ms. Reyer said three doctors agreed the best course of action was to make Michael comfortable and he was transported to hospice care. The painful seizures would only continue, the doctors said, and recovery to where he had been was not possible. The violent seizures regress brain function.
“It was the worst, but to know Michael would have no pain it was for his best,” his mother said. “I said he’s going home, but never realized he is going home to the best home of all.”
Mr. Reyer said in lieu of flowers, people can donate to Peconic Bay Medical Center’s Health Foundation in memory of Michael. Funeral arrangements are in the care of Tuthill-Mangano Funeral Home in Riverhead.
Visitation will be Thursday from 3 to 7 p.m. at St. John the Evangelist R.C. Church in Riverhead. A funeral Mass will 10 a.m. Friday with internment to follow at St. John the Evangelist Cemetery in Riverhead.
Photo caption: Michael Hubbard pictured in 2017 with his mother Nancy Reyer at PBMC’s skilled nursing facility. (Credit: Joe Werkmeister)