He would no longer tackle any long-distance rides in the hillsides southwest of Patterson, and surely not compete on an elite level.
Yet, there he was on June 1, atop his Pinarello bike that shone a bright red, making the trek from his home on Marisa Drive in the south end of Patterson to the local Starbucks on the other end of town. It had been less than two months after a series of medical diseases and conditions rendered him helpless and fighting for release from their painful contract.
The 69-year-old Huston says he has already won just by hopping on his two-wheeler and spinning his way around town.
“I wrote in my diary that my goal was the first or second week of June to be on my bike,” said Huston, who taught at a private school in Livermore before moving to Patterson in 1988. “I don’t like to be told what I can’t do. When I heard the doctors’ opinion, that just made me more determined.”
The hospital was his home for 23 days. But on May 6, Don, who is currently undertaking physical therapy and maintenance treatment, celebrated his return home with friends and relatives.
Fran Huston was with her husband throughout the journey and never doubted his determination.
“When he was at the hospital, for many days, (Don) was going backwards instead of forwards,” Fran Huston said. “Somewhere towards the end of his stay, one of the doctors said that he would never ride again. It may take him months, but I said to myself ‘Oh, he will’.”
Fran said she was amazed by the strength of her husband, and after spending many days in hospital rooms by his side, she is thrilled he’s back home.
“Since his return, we’ve been very pleased with how doctors are handling his primary care,” Fran Huston said. “We’re coordinating with a hematologist, he’s going to see an endocrinologist. We’re still learning, but I think he is on a roll (to recovery).”
For the Huston family, it’s been an excruciating journey.
On April 13, just five days after doctors located a blood clot behind Don’s right knee, Fran returned home to find her husband doubled over with abdominal pain. She dialed 911, and when paramedics arrived, they carried Don down the stairs to the ambulance where they rushed him to the emergency room at Doctors Medical Center in Modesto.
The following day, doctors discovered a pulmonary embolism, which was likely caused by the blood clot in Don’s leg that broke loose and traveled to his lungs.
A computed tomography scan, using X-rays to make detailed pictures of structures inside of his body, also found an infected, enlarged gall bladder, the small pear-shaped organ on the underside of the liver that is used to store bile.
On April 15, a cholecystostomy, a procedure for putting a tube into the gall bladder to drain it, was performed, and an inferior vena cava filter was inserted through a small incision in Don’s leg to prevent any blood clots from freeing themselves and reaching his heart.
On April 20, two days after celebrating his 49th wedding anniversary, an operation was required to remove the gall bladder and gallstones, solid forms made from cholesterol, bile salts and calcium.
Over the next several days, Don’s condition deteriorated and even more ailments emerged.
An acute central line, a long, flexible, plastic tube, was inserted through a vein in his neck to treat another blood clot found in his arm. He was also diagnosed as having Addison’s disease, a disorder that occurs when the body produces insufficient amounts of certain hormones produced by the adrenal glands.
“It was an oddity of all of these things happening one right after the other,” said Don Huston, who has trained goalkeepers at Patterson High School the past seven seasons. “It was overwhelming to find out afterwards how many people were praying, sending best wishes.”
The onslaught of medical diseases and conditions began to take a toll on Don’s mental well being.
Already possessing a thin, toned body, he had dropped more than 30 pounds and was not eating well. Don also experienced trouble sleeping, and was suffering from hallucinations and painful spasms.
It wasn’t until Don was released from the hospital, that he began to feel some semblance of order.
Other than being riddled with pain and discomfort, he doesn’t remember much about his hospitalization.
“I can remember being loaded into the ambulance, and I vaguely remember the trip to the hospital. But I don’t remember arriving at the hospital. I don’t remember talking to a doctor,” Don Huston said. “I have little snippets of memory from my time at the hospital. Basically, I remember coming back through (my front) door 23 days later.”
He acknowledged that Fran Huston and his son, Charlie Huston of Los Angeles, put their lives aside and dedicated themselves to his recovery.
“One of the motivations for getting well, was the importance of getting my family back to a normal life. I know how messed up it was for my family to have to deal with this whole thing,” Don Huston said. “It was important to get back to normalcy as quickly as we could.”
Through intensive occupational and physical therapy, Don immediately committed himself to the challenging comeback. Some days, he crawled across his living room in agony and tears, the pain in his body so great.
“I remember one of my exercises was being able to use a walker to get around. Then it was getting 15 to 20 feet to the bathroom,” Don Huston said. “An occupational therapist helped me take my first shower in a month. That was revitalizing in itself.
“My physical therapist was a perfect match for where I was. She wasn’t a sissy. She knew how to push my buttons enough to get me to work a little bit.”
Don set his return date to cycling within two weeks of his homecoming.
It began with a five-mile sojourn to the coffeehouse chain based in Seattle. The following day, he pedaled a few miles farther. And on Saturday, June 8, together with five of his friends, he traversed a grueling 26 miles under the scorching sun, testing his willpower, strength and endurance, on an excursion across the West Side.
Don says that writing poetry, which involves jotting down his deepest thoughts and feelings, has helped him cope.
He said he learned to keep life in perspective, and to revel the little things.
“Riding my bike again was almost like winning a medal in a race — it felt so good to be able to do it,” Don Huston said. “I was proud of myself to be able to do that first little ride.”
Friends have also provided plenty of encouraging words along the way, too.
“I think that talking to his friends that gather each morning at Blues Cafe, getting him back to socializing, having something to discuss in the newspaper, was really therapeutic,” Fran Huston said. “People were great. They were praying for him. There was so much faith.”
Every time Don Huston puts his feet on the pedals of his bike he rides to fulfill a promise to himself.
“Cycling presents a personal challenge for me. I think that is true with most that do it,” he said. “Can I get to the top of a climb? Can I do it faster the next time? Can I go a few more miles this time?”
Contact Marc Aceves at 892-6187, ext. 28, or firstname.lastname@example.org.