In an auditorium in Bearden, Arkansas, Doug Haynes was sitting in his wheelchair by the stage, dressed in his graduation robes. The high school senior had waited for this moment for four years.
His physical therapist stood in front of him, pushing away the chair’s footrests and grasping the gait belt around Doug’s waist. Sensing what their classmate was about to accomplish, the students started to cheer and stand, the noise rolling from row to row, building into a crescendo.
The principal called out Doug’s name above the roar, taking a quick breath between his first, and middle names to keep herself from crying.
Doug stood. The auditorium erupted.
With every step across the stage to receive his high school diploma, Doug was living unlimited.
About six years before, he had been diagnosed with FSHD, or Facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy. FSHD is a progressive muscle disease which weakens muscles in the face, upper arms, and lower legs. In some cases, it also affects the abdominal muscles and the hips.
“It took a lot to walk across the stage, but when I did it I was happy for myself, because I achieved my goal,” Doug says.
Always an active kid, Doug loved playing baseball. It was while playing baseball that he and his parents noticed something wasn’t quite right. The then 12-year-old wasn’t throwing as hard as he usually did and was having trouble running.
His mom, Robin Doherty, brought him to the doctor. They bounced around to four different clinics before finally getting the diagnosis of FSHD.
“It just came out of the blue,” Robin says.
The disease hasn’t stopped Doug from living unlimited and through his fundraising for the MDA, he’s helping others do the same.
Supporting the MDA
The MDA has always been there for Doug’s family, whenever they had questions or needed equipment, and the family will always be there for the MDA.
“As a parent it is very hard to watch your child go from a child that was a catcher in baseball and rode horses, to now having to depend on me to give him his bath,” Robin says. “My wish is that they will find a cure, so other families don’t have to go through the struggles.”
For Doug, the walk is a chance to inspire others.
“When I go up there to the walk, I get to meet different people and show them the example of what muscular dystrophy can do — that it doesn’t stop you from what you’re doing,” Doug says.
Doug attended the summer camp and he still would be, if he hadn’t turned 18 and aged out. He had the time of his life.
“I remember Doug coming home that first year. He was so excited, because he never got to do anything like that,” Robin says. “He said it was the best week of the whole year, because he felt normal, because all the kids there were just like him.”
A tight-knit community
Doug was still riding horses and playing sports until he turned 14, when the disease stopped him from being as active as he once had been. But Doug, and his small, tight-knit community, still found a way for him to be involved in what he loved.
“Instead of playing baseball, the high school team let him be the manager,” Robin says. “He went to every baseball game at the school. They have a handicap booth they would load him on. He had a uniform. He was part of the team.”
Doug’s classmates have watched the progression of his disease. They’re supportive and watch out for him. As Robin says, it takes a village.
Doug knows everyone and they know him. He’s not one to mope around at home or feel sorry for himself. Instead, he’s always out and about, visiting friends and having fun.
“He keeps the roads hot in his wheelchair,” his mom says.
A few years after his diagnosis, as Doug entered high school, he made a promise to himself. He was going to walk at graduation.
“He didn’t know how fast this disease was going to progress, but his goal was to walk. He wanted to walk across the stage at graduation and that’s the goal that he had set probably in the 10th grade,” Robin says. “I told him if there was any way possible, that we were going to make sure it happened.”
A spinal fusion surgery seven months before graduation threatened to derail Doug’s plans. Before the surgery, he could walk a bit. Now, though Doug can breathe better, eat better, and is in less pain, he can’t walk unassisted.
But of course, he’s working hard to change that. Each week, Doug sweats through hours of physical therapy.
“My next goal is just to get up out of this wheelchair,” he says. “I’m going to keep working at it.”
Doug wants to be an example to people — a “big example,” he says.
He already is, to his classmates, to his community, and now, to the world.
His big brother took a video of Doug walking at graduation and posted it on Facebook. Friends encouraged him to share it, so he sent it to a couple local news stations. From there, the video went viral.
“We recorded the video of the graduation simply so Doug could watch it back, so he could see himself fulfill his goal and we never dreamed that it would go viral,” Robin says, explaining that she had a reporter from Good Morning America call her to ask about doing a story on Doug. “When it went on that webpage, I started getting messages on Facebook from Canada and New York and New Jersey and Indonesia. All these different places.”
Every time Doug watches the video, he gets emotional. He was surprised when his classmates started to cheer and leap from their seats to clap for him. Doug didn’t realize how deeply he had impacted his community.
“He faces things head-on. He never lets anything keep him from doing what he really wants to do,” Robin says. “If there was a challenge, he would figure out a way to do it. It may look awkward or it may not be the way you think it should be done, but he will get it done.”
Doug has a message for all those who struggle as he does. Don’t stop living. Don’t let anything limit you.
“Keep going on,” Doug says. “That’s your life.”