AMESBURY — Mitch and Elisa Holt put their 6-month-old son, Noah, to bed on Oct. 2, 2014, thinking everything would be the same the next morning.
They were wrong.
"When he awoke is when we noticed the paralysis in his legs," Mitch Holt said.
Noah, who is now 5, was diagnosed with acute flaccid myelitis, a rare disease affecting the parts of the nervous system that carry messages from the spinal cord to the brain. He has had limited movement in his legs ever since.
"2014 was the first year they started seeing these cases," Holt said. "I want to say he was either the third or fourth case in Massachusetts. They are still searching for a cause, but the lead suspect right now is called enterovirus D68. That is in the same family as polio."
The Holts moved to Amesbury a year and a half ago and Noah began attending kindergarten at Amesbury Elementary School in late August.
Since he cannot walk, Noah makes use of a wheelchair, a mobile stander, a walker or sometimes a wagon to get around.
“My favorite is the wheelchair," Noah said.
Life has gone on for the Holts, who have also made it a tradition to celebrate Noah's onset day each year on Oct. 3.
“We want to take back what AFM took from us,” Holt said. "For a lot of people, this is a sad, tough day, and it can be for us as well. But we want to make something positive out of it. He has worked very hard and come so far. It is something different, but it has been a part of our lives that has made us stronger and better. We can make it something positive for him and our family and our community as well."
Principal Shannon Nolan heard about the Holts' tradition when school began and thought it might be a good idea to help them celebrate Noah's onset day at the school with a special "Knowing Noah" assembly that was held in the school cafeteria Thursday morning.
Many students and teachers wore blue to show their support for Noah and donated money to the Transverse Myelitis Association.
"We are all a little bit different and that is what makes us so special," Nolan said.
Elisa Holt told the students, "Sometimes, we have to climb a really big, big mountain, but we get there."
“We didn't know what the road would look like" in 2014, she said. "So we thought two years might be too fast. And five years felt like a good goal to set so we just kept saying, ‘Imagine in five years where we will be.’ He has exceeded beyond anyone's expectations."
Noah ended the assembly by singing "The Climb" by Miley Cyrus.
“It’s important for the kids to understand that, although he is in a wheelchair, he is just like them," Nolan said. "You can ask him questions, you can talk to him. Don't be afraid. We, as a community, can support him."
For more on the Transverse Myelitis Association: https://myelitis.org.
Staff writer Jim Sullivan covers Amesbury and Salisbury for The Daily News. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 978-961-3145. Follow him on Twitter @ndnsully.