LAKELAND, Fla.—A Lakeland firefighter faced tough odds when he was hit with a rare disorder last year, at one point leaving him unable to walk or talk. Thanks to his determination and support from his fellow firefighters, he returned to work Tuesday morning nearly ten months later.
Steven Connors had been through the fight of his life.
“My left toe felt as if I, kinda felt like it was asleep, if I stubbed it or something,” said Connors, a driver, engineer, and paramedic for the Lakeland Fire Department. “Numb, I just figured I must have hit it or something and not noticed it. The next morning, I woke up and my right toe was numb, and then it progressed through my feet, and by the time I was getting ready for my next shift two days later, I went to get out of bed and I couldn’t walk.”
Doctors diagnosed Connors with Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare disorder where his body’s immune system attacked his nerves. Connors’ case was so severe, it progressed up to his forehead, and once it hit his diaphragm, he says he could no longer breathe.
“I was trached and in the ICU on a ventilator for months unable to move at all, but fully alert, fully awake with unbelievable pain,” said Connors. “It was like pouring hot lava down my spine and ripping the muscles from my bones.”
While in the hospital, he was never alone. His Lakeland Fire family took shifts to always be by his side. Connors says for a while he couldn’t talk and had to communicate with a whiteboard.
In time and through physical therapy, Connors slowly recovered. After about ten months, Tuesday morning marked his first shift back at work.
“We’ve been anticipating this day for such a long time, and we’re just so happy to have him back and ready for him to get back on that truck and start running calls again,” said Lakeland Fire Chief Doug Riley.
“It’s surreal because to think back to just even a few months ago, it didn’t seem like it was a possibility,” said Connors.
The hometown hero proved progress is possible with determination and a great support system. His message to others who are also struggling? Persevere.
“Don’t give up, plain and simple,” said Connors.