Steven W. Hirsch, associate professor of classics and adjunct professor of history in the School of Arts and Sciences at Tufts University, has always believed that happiness can’t be faked. Hirsch, 62, is happy when he’s with family and when he’s in a classroom, teaching Greek and Latin, and the period between “prehistory” and the Middle Ages. And he’s also happy when he’s playing soccer. His theory is that as long as one communes with loved ones and does the things he or she loves, then happiness is inevitable.
But 16 years ago that theory was sorely tested, when he was suddenly struck down by Guillain-Barre syndrome, an autoimmune disorder that destroys part of the body’s neurological system. At the time, Hirsch, who was in Talloires, France, to teach at the Tufts European Center, was leading an archeological dig in the French Alps.
“I literally went from actively participating in the dig — on my hands and knees in the dirt, digging for artifacts, carrying heavy loads — to 24 hours later being completely paralyzed, except for my eyes and mouth,” he says.
“It was definitely disconcerting to not be able to control my own body. But I don’t know what to tell you,” Hirsch says. “I didn’t despair. I was more interested in getting back to those things that were meaningful to me. And so finding a way consumed my time.”
Hirsch was hospitalized for 13 months after he fell ill — he spent two weeks in French hospitals before being flown back to the United States, where he continued treatment in Boston-area hospitals. With friends and family cheering him on, and a team of Tufts occupational therapy students assisting him, Hirsch made it back to his classroom three months after going home from the hospital. He even regained some movement in his arms and hands.
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