Escaping the last wave
(The Philippine Star) - December 8, 2019 - 12:00am

Over a year ago, a major surfing accident put the life of JM Quiblat, a multimedia artist, performer and surfer, in critical condition. But miraculously, he pulled through, little by little, with the help and support of his family, friends and the people who continue to help him get fully recovered.

If you are one of those who stumbled upon and, continuously supported #WakeUpJM, this is his story – a story of love, hope, miracle and recovery.

It was Oct. 4, 2018, just before sundown, when JM and his friends Miguel Vasquez, Justin Allen and Hutch Sabater decided to have one last surf through the waves of General Nakar in Quezon.

“My friends were starting to go out of the water but, Migs and I decided to have one last surf. And then, I passed a wave. The tide gained low and big waves came towards me, knocking me down – that was when I lost consciousness,” JM recalls. 

Luckily, Migs felt JM’s hair and managed to pull him ashore. For four minutes, JM was not breathing. With a faint pulse, his body turned purple. His friends did everything to try to revive him. Fortunately, Hutch knew CPR, a critical procedure to restore immediate blood circulation and breathing. 

As JM regained his breath, the group took him to a nearby hospital. The attending physician told them that he needed more serious medical attention, so they rushed him to a hospital in Manila.

CPR had extended his hours, but he wasn’t far from death. He continued to cough blood, turning the ambulance stretcher crimson red, as he also incurred lung damage from the accident. Seconds after being admitted to the hospital, he fell into a coma and experienced a seizure.

JM suffered from Status Epilepticus, a continuous state of seizure with a very high mortality rate. Most of those who suffer from this condition do not recover because the longer the time of the seizure, the heavier its toll on the brain. He had to be paralyzed by inducing hypothermia so his brain would not incur further damage.

The following hours were critical to whether he would live or die. His family was prepared for the worst, as they realized the severity of his injuries. But then a miracle happened – JM woke up from the coma. His body was too resilient and his pulse kept pumping, enabling him to cling to life.

After a few months and a couple of operations, JM woke up from coma and then underwent physical therapy. At first, the sessions were intended to at least get him to move and, somehow, live a normal life. But JM showed great progress – standing and balancing were just some of things he immediately achieved after just a few sessions.

JM and his mom Jocelyn learned about Sante Fitness Lab (SFL), a one-stop fitness center offering holistic training programs as well as innovative recovery and sports rehabilitation.

According to Rheysonn Cornilla, JM’s coach and physical therapist at SFL, among JM’s concerns were his troubles with sudden and vigorous maneuvers. He was missing movement components because of his severe brain injury. The trauma made him forget the basics in moving some parts of his body – his legs in particular – and thus prospects for athletic activity were not good.

To solve JM’s motion problems, an intricate program was readied for him so he could be reminded of even the small details of movement.

“We assessed JM based on his needs and we tied it up with his goals. He wanted to go back surfing but with his current state, it would be impossible. To achieve the difficult tasks, we needed to reintegrate the basic pieces – the little steps that all add up to accomplish more complex movements. The program for his goal will teach him to balance himself, learn how and when to move his feet and how to correctly shift his weight – these things were lost due to brain injury,” explains coach Rheysonn.

Since JM’s recovery program is tailor-fitted to his needs, every session also entails an evaluation to prepare for the next step. This set up ensures that JM slowly regains what he had lost.

“I call them the ‘Eagle Eye’,” his mom says. “Just by looking at JM, they can point out what my son needs to relearn. It is only in SFL that I learned that movement requires particularity – that when you can move normally, you will not realize it since it is all natural to you. I am grateful for JM’s progress. After three sessions, he could already walk; after the fourth, he started running!” she adds.

What was thought to be a goal of just living a normal life at most, now became a chase for passion once more. Before attending the program at SFL, to surf again was impossible. He practically faced death, and it’s hard to imagine what JM went through. It took more than a miracle to bring him to what he can do now. 

JM is still undergoing the rehabilitation program and there is no definite time for when he will regain all his motor skills. But to surf again, he says, is his goal.  

“I’m not a pro surfer. I just love the ocean,” says JM. “As Filipinos, we’re living in an island nation, so I think it’s important for us to have a relationship with the ocean. I can’t find enough words to thank God, as well as all of the people who got involved in giving me my second life. Soon, I will be back in the water, riding the waves.”

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