Matthew Moskowitz has made a comeback in his young life from a challenge that few his age ever encounter.
The day of Nov. 28, 2006, did not start or end well for the then eighth-grader. He woke up feeling tired. When he got to school he struggled through his classes until finally collapsing on the gym floor. The 13-year-old had suffered a stroke.
Moskowitz remembers being unable to concentrate that day on his schoolwork and having a terrible headache. Still, he went to gym class, changed and ran a few laps to warm up before volleyball.
"I was overheated, sweating and my face was red," Moskowitz said. "My friends told me to go to the nurse. I sat down, and then when I went to get a drink, I couldn't walk straight; I walked like I was drunk. I bent over to drink and I couldn't swallow the water. I sat back down and heard bells ring in my head, then I fell off the chair. I hit my head on the volleyball pole while I was having a seizure. Then it stopped, I put my hands under my head like I was sleeping, and that's all I remember. I woke up in the hospital."
Doctors attributed the stroke to natural causes. At New York University Medical Center's Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine, Moskowitz underwent physical and speech therapy and learned how to walk again.
"I did everything they told me to do and I did it the best I could," Moskowitz said.
After spending nearly two months in various hospitals, Moskowitz went home Jan. 19, 2007, his 14th birthday, but continued physical therapy near home and worked to catch up on his schoolwork. It was a long haul, but Moskowitz, who is now 18 and attends Plainview-Old Bethpage High School, discovered his inner resilience.
"I learned that no matter what life threw at me, I could handle it," he said. The experience mellowed him. "I'm more easygoing, more laid-back. I feel how lucky I am to have a life."
That life includes ice hockey and baseball. Moskowitz was a captain and has played defense on his travel ice hockey team since junior high. He is also a captain and catcher on the varsity baseball team. "It was a good way to end my high school career," he said.
Because of the stroke, he has to put extra effort into his reading comprehension. "If I don't focus, I don't understand what I'm reading," Moskowitz said. "I have to clear my mind and be very careful."
He plans to attend Penn State, and is considering studying medicine, possibly physical therapy. "I like giving back and helping people," he said.
In that spirit, Moskowitz baby-sat several times a week for a boy who uses a wheelchair and his siblings after Moskowitz's mother saw a Facebook notice that a neighbor was looking for a sitter. He is also a referee for Police Athletic League floor hockey and umpire for Little League baseball. Moskowitz shares his experience so that it might help others, speaking to physical therapy students about his brain injury and recovery, and to students enrolled in a neurological rehabilitation class.
"His openness is a testament to Matthew's strength and character," said Angela Sigmon, his guidance counselor.