Opening doors: Westfield High School senior overcomes odds despite illness


On any given weekday, more than 2,600 students walk through the front doors of Westfield High School. But for 18-year-old Isaiah Hurd, passing through those doors last fall at the start of his senior year was the culmination of a journey he was determined to finish, against all odds.

Hurd spent much of his high school career using a wheelchair or walker. But he didn’t always have mobility issues. In middle school, he was a tennis player at Indy Racket Club playing up to five days a week. But during summer break between eighth grade and freshman year, he was afflicted with a mystery illness.

“I couldn’t move. I woke up in bed and I couldn’t move a muscle, and that feeling persisted over days and over weeks and then over months,” he said.

The illness left Hurd bedbound, requiring him to attend school virtually regardless of pandemic restrictions. He spent his freshman year seeing doctors and specialists, taking numerous blood draws with no indication of what was wrong. Until finally, when it felt like hope was lost, he saw a specialist at Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health in Indianapolis. He was diagnosed with myalgic encephalomyelitis, sometimes referred to as chronic fatigue syndrome.

“I didn’t know what this looked like for my future. I didn’t even know if I had a future,” Hurd said.

Determined not to let the disease defeat him, Hurd began multiple treatment options, including various combinations of medications and physical therapy. But ultimately, he said the key to his management is rest and listening to his body. If he overexerts himself, he suffers with post-exertional malaise, an extreme fatigue. Fatigue isn’t simply being tired. When fatigue hits, it means he can be bed bound for an indeterminate amount of time.

Armed with that information, Hurd was able to attend classes three days a week using a wheelchair or a walker in his sophomore year, and four days a week junior year.

But senior year, he accomplished something that he described as “astounding.”

Hurd westfield hs commons
Isaiah Hurd said he owes thanks for his progress in dealing with his chronic illness to the supportive environment at Westfield High School. (Photo by Marney Simon)

“I walked through the front doors for the very first time on my own two feet on the first day of my senior year, something that most kids do on their very first day as a freshman,” Hurd said. “That moment was emotional. Just walking through doors seems like a normal, everyday thing. But those doors, they hold an importance to me. To be able to get through them on my own without any walking assistance or device, it was emotional. I kept my composure though, because if you see a kid just walk through doors and start crying, it’s kind of weird.”

Pushing himself as hard as his body would allow, Hurd began to achieve more. Last summer, he visited Niagara Falls and was able to walk with his family, something he didn’t think he’d be able to do again.

“Ever since I was first symptomatic, I always dreamed of getting back out on the tennis courts. I love tennis,” he said. “Just a couple of months ago, I was finally able to get back out on the court and be in the moment and play.”

This winter, Hurd was named Mr. Westfield during the school’s annual talent show for seniors. For the talent portion, he told his story, earning a standing ovation and the title. He will now share his story in May at the Robbie’s Hope Mental Health Gala, talking about how chronic illness can have a long-lasting impact on mental health.

Hurd hopes to attend IU Bloomington or IU Indianapolis this fall and major in biochemistry.

For his last trimester at WHS, he keeps busy after school helping to manage the high school Instagram page, and he is active in a club called Invisibuddies, which supports students and staff with invisible diseases and mental health challenges.

He has a message of positivity for his friends and peers.

“Live every day the best you can,” Hurd said. “There was no warning sign that I was going to develop myalgic encephalomyelitis. I wasn’t sick beforehand. Walking is something we all take for granted. And once I lost the ability to carry myself around, I realized how important that is, and how important living every single day to the fullest is. There’s so much uncertainty about tomorrow or the future, and it’s important to think about the future, but it’s more important to think about the present.”

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Isaiah Hurd was the winner of Mr. Westfield,
a talent show competition held this winter at the high school. (Photo courtesy of Kim Hurd)


Isaiah Hurd gives credit for this improved health and positive outlook to his support system, specifically his friends, family, and everyone at Westfield High School.

“The students and staff at Westfield High School and the people here at Westfield in general have been so understanding and so accepting,” Hurd said, adding that his teachers and peers have gone to great lengths to make sure he feels supported both in and out of the classroom.

“I’ve never had a single bad experience,” he said. “All of my teachers, all of my friends, every single one of the class members here have been so open and accommodating, especially my counselor Mrs. Corya. She’s helped me ever since I came through these doors in a wheelchair, she’s had my back. Just to have such an accommodating and uplifting community to support me and have my back, it’s something that I am eternally grateful for.”