Quinn maintains positive attitude while battling rare disorder

Even on the worst days of his lengthy, challenging recovery from a rare disorder, Jere Quinn has maintained a positive attitude.

To the legendary St. Thomas More basketball coach, it's just another "little obstacle" in life.

A little obstacle that hospitalized him on May 10 and then sent him to a rehabilitation center where he is today battling back from Guillain-Barre syndrome, a debilitating illness that causes the body's immune system to attack your nerves, often leading to paralysis as well as other serious health issues.

"Mentally, it's a battle," said Matt Quinn of his father. "For all of two months, he was almost incapable of doing anything ... He's been great through it. Obviously, when you're going through something like this, there are ups and downs. He's really stayed positive.

"He's really tried to be there for us when we're trying to be there for him. He's always telling us not to worry about it, he's fine."

It's typical of Jere Quinn, who's spent the last 41 years putting all his energy into helping his players and students at the prep school on Gardner Lake on Montville.

Now it's his turn to receive loving support and aid from others. Members of the St. Thomas More community, former and current players, fellow prep school coaches, college coaches and friends have reached out to him during his hospitalization and rehabilitation. Not a day has gone by that he hasn't had at least one visitor.

Being the center of attention isn't exactly Quinn's favorite position.

"He doesn't love all this," Matt said with a laugh. "Especially for what he's going through. That's certainly not what he'd want attention for."

Jere, who celebrated his 64th birthday in June in the hospital, has maintained a healthy sense of humor while making progress in his recovery

"It's been a memorable summer," Quinn said during a phone call from Aaron Manor Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Chester. "The body is an amazing thing. Life can offer you all sorts of learning experiences and craziness."

He first noticed symptoms — his legs felt like they were falling asleep — last spring and went to the emergency room at Backus Hospital in Norwich on May 10. He quickly started going downhill.

"By the time we brought him to the ER, he pretty much couldn't stand on his own," Matt said. "He kind of lost everything. Very shocking. It was just out of the blue."

Tests revealed that he had Guillain-Barre syndrome.

At first, Quinn lost feeling in his legs.

It was a scary time.

Eventually, he improved. He's now is getting into a wheelchair on his own and starting to walk with support, a significant step forward. He's learned a great deal by talking to others that have dealt with the illness.

"It's a virus," Jere said. "Doctors really don't know why certain people get it or why. I don't have the simplest case or the worst case but I have a pretty good case. There's no cure for it. The virus has to run its course. Time is your ally but also your frustration.

"The first six weeks, I really made no improvement. Just lying in bed and looking up at the ceiling remaining positive and patient. Since June 18, I've started to recover and I'm feeling better every day. My family has been so supportive. My wife keeps saying it's just a bump in the road and we will get through it. And we will."

Quinn feels fortunate to have such wonderful doctors, nurses and physical therapists. Before arriving at the Chester facility, he spent time in at Gaylord Specialty Healthcare/Gaylord Hospital, a rehabilitation facility in Wallingford.

The silver lining is, according to his son, is there is a recovery process and people get better.

"I know he's looking forward to coming back," Matt said.

Yes, Quinn plans to return to St. Thomas More as Director of Development and will begin his 42nd season as prep basketball coach this fall. He loves his job.

He's expected to return to his on-campus home in about two weeks.

But it will take much longer for his life to return to fairly normal. Some people experience lingering effects like weakness, numbness or fatigue.

"They expect him to be walking on his own in six months," Matt said. "Just like with anything, there's still some recovery that takes up to a year. ... He could be sitting in a wheelchair for a while in the gym but he's looking forward to getting back involved. He's very excited about returning. He's gotten to the point where he wants some activity.

"He's doing physical therapy all day, basically every day to try to speed up the recovery. Because it's a neurological thing, the nerves just need time to heal."

As he's preaches to his players, Quinn says he has to be patient and trust the process. Matt, an assistant coach on his father's staff, already anticipates needing to tell him to slow down.

"It's a lot like coaching a season, you can't win a championship on the first day of practice," Jere said. "You recognize this is a process and you have to get through it."

The serious illness has caused Jere to reevaluate some things. He expects to be more relaxed on the sidelines. No more stomping his feet when he disagrees with an official's call.

"My intent is greater calmness," he said. "Not that I've always fulfilled my intentions. The intent is to be a more supportive and caring guy."

Prior to his illness, Quinn was working on the St. Thomas More Gymnasium Project, which includes improvements on everything from the court to replacing the scoreboard and lights, as well as renovating the bathrooms and basement and adding bleachers.

In his absence, the school is making a push to complete the project. Roughly $75,000 is still needed and donations can be made through the school's website.

"We're hoping to try and complete it so he doesn't feel obliged to finish it when he gets back," Matt said.

The project received a big financial boost from former player Andre Drummond, a two-time NBA all-star with the Detroit Pistons. He upped his annual commitment to cover the cost of refurbishing the court.

Drummond had one request.

"He wanted the court to be named in my father's name, which is very kind of him," Matt said.

As you might expect, Quinn reluctantly agreed. He greatly appreciates the honor.

"Anybody that knows me, I've never done anything for personal accolades," said Jere, who won his 1,000th career game last year. "People have done more for me than I've ever done for them."

g.keefe@theday.com

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