Joshua Shirk continues to fight the odds; mom says God placed people where they needed to be to help him
By Barbara High
Tribune Staff Writer
KEYSER - Monica Shirk is still holding fast to her faith - a faith that has helped see her and her family through many obstacles over what will soon be a year.
May 17, 2020, started out as any other day for the Shirks; the sun was shining and their family was together. But it would soon become the day that would forever change their lives with an event that would touch and bring together a community.
The family was out on the river in their kayaks that day. Monica’s 8-year-old son Joshua was in his own kayak and was tethered to a family member. When they came upon a felled tree with a large root system in the river, however, Joshua was swept under,, becoming entangled by his life jacket in the roots. Two paramedics happened to be fishing nearby, and came to the family’s aid. Approximately five to ten minutes later, Joshua was pulled from the river with no pulse. After 40 minutes of lifesaving efforts, however, Joshua once again had a pulse. Monica says she believes everything was laid out in a grand design, from those with them who pulled Joshua from the river, to the paramedics fishing nearby who weren’t even supposed to be on the river that day.
For Monica it was simple, God had put the right people in Joshua’s path that day and has continued to do so every day since. She said that was the reason that Joshua, the boy who spent 40 minutes without life, was able to leave the hospital 30 days after entering. She also says that God continues to do so with everyone who has helped treat Joshua in the last ten months. Treatments that she says have made all the difference in Joshua’s recovery.
Joshua left Ruby Memorial just 30 days after being admitted, and then spent a short time in a rehabilitation center until the Shirks were finally able to return home. That time home was short lived, however, because the path for recovery for Joshua was just beginning.
“Joshua was released from the rehab center on Sept. 16, and two days later we were on our way to New Orleans,” said Monica. There, they would stay for nine weeks as Joshua underwent hyperbaric oxygen therapy. Joshua would complete 41 dives in a chamber over the next nine weeks. The dives cost $12,000 for 40.
Monica said Joshua was able to have his dad in the chambers with him during the dives, when Joshua would be put in a pressurized chamber and be given different doses of pressurized air and oxygen.
The dives are designed to infiltrate the body with pure oxygenated air. Once put into the body, the air finds areas of inflammation and delivers oxygen-enriched blood, allowing the area to heal itself. For Joshua, those areas would include his brain, which had suffered swelling after the incident and is still inflamed.
Joshua will need to complete many more dives in the future. The family recently purchased a chamber for Joshua to use at home at a cost of $26,000, which was only made possible by donations they had received from a lot of wonderful people.
Monica said the cost of the dives, plus lodging and food in New Orleans, was more than the family could handle. To rent a place for a month was over $4,000 and the dives were $12,000, and that didn’t include food, she said. With purchasing their own chamber, Joshua will be able to continue his dives without delay.
Joshua’s doctor, Dr. Harch, will fly to the family to set up Joshua’s chamber and train his family and then will oversee his care from New Orleans.
During their time in New Orleans the family was also steered towards exosmoes infusions, and with the help of his doctor, that would be the next course for the youngster.
“We met other families of non-fatal drowning victims and spoke to them and they had done them, so with research and talking to the doctor, we decided to go that route,” she said.
Also while in New Orleans, the family learned they would have to make the trip again.
Exosmose infusions, or “Red Bull for stem cells,” as his dad calls them, do kind of the same thing as his previous treatment. Joshua was injected with a tiny valve of exosmose, and although it was small, it contained about 40 billion healthy exosmoses. Once introduced to the body, they too travel to the areas of inflammation and empower them with super foods enriched with nutrients to wake up cells and tell them to work again.
Joshua also recently traveled to Arizona to undertake some stem cell therapy. There, doctors extract some fat from him after numbing him really good, in a similar procedure as liposuction. They put the specimen under a slide to check if they are rich in cells. Joshua’s fat had so many healthy cells that the computer couldn’t count the number and they had to wipe off the slide and put another sample back on it, said Monica.
After the fat sample is taken, it is skinned so they can separate the cells. The stem cells are then given back to Joshua. Part of the cells are given to him nasally as a mist. By doing this, the stem cells are able to cross the blood brain barrier and immediately start to work. The remainder of the stem cells are then injected at the top of the tail bone at the base of the spinal cord. There they form a sack and the excess will release from the sack and travel up the spinal column into the brain.They also begin to break off and reproduce. They stimulate the areas of inflammation and damage, which helps to get them to fire again.
Monica said the results of this treatment will become apparent after six months.
“You hear people say the brain dies during times of lack of oxygen,” said Monica. “God in fact puts in a safeguard switch that flips to hibernation, or shuts down, if you will. “Everything we’re doing is to shock his brain in a way to wake it back up and turn it on; to tell it to wake up and do its job.”
Besides the special treatments, Joshua is also doing regular physical therapy, preparing to start occupational therapy, and speech. He is doing acupuncture as well, to help release the energy to allow the body to heal itself.The micro trauma that the needles cause sends a message of damage to the body and it releases healing properties to that area.
“Everything we have done so far is using his own body to try and heal itself,” said Monica. “Everything we have used has been his, with the exception of the exosmose.”
As far as improvements in Joshua, his mom said those have been great. “It’s the difference between night and day,” she says. “It was harder for me to see the subtle changes. I am with him 24 hours a day, but when I see the old videos, it is like, wow!”
Monica says you can see the difference in her son’s eyes, “His pupillary responses are better and he can track better,” she said. She also says his tone is better and he is so close to being able to hold his own head up.
“He can retract his legs now, where before he could only extend.” Plus she says there is improvement in his response time. “Before, when you gave him a command, there was a larger delay in the time between when you told him to kick his legs and when he would kick his legs,” she explained. That delay has gotten shorter as his brain is beginning to send messages faster.
He has also begun to do a gait trainer, which is like a walker.
Yet those are not even his biggest improvements.
“Joshua started talking,” Monica said. He was recently heard saying on a Facebook video while having muscle spasms, “It hurts.”
Hearing Joshua’s voice again was music to his mothers ears. “I posted the video of him talking and within hours it had 3,700 views. She sent it to her husband and told him 3,000 was other people rejoicing, and 700 was how many times she had probably watched it.
“I watched it over and over again,” she said. Joshua tries to talk more and more; he is always making sounds, according to his mom.
His mom says she is able to hold strong for her son because of her faith. “I am doing good,” she said. “It was hard after coming home for the first time since the accident and having to leave just two days later. When we got home, it was also difficult to see all the reminders of Joshua from before the accident, like his medals and stuff from sports, cause he was such an athlete. I saw all this stuff of the ‘used to be,’” she said.
For his mom though, it is all a matter of time. “I know he will get better, this is just what is for now, this is not what is forever,” she said.
Monica sees this as a marathon, not a sprint. “He is not a writer, he is a fighter and doesn’t give up.
“My faith is stronger than ever, I think it grows a little more each day.”
She isn’t going to lie; there are days that are hard. “I’m a mother who hurts to see her child hurting, but I don’t doubt my son or my God!,” she says.
“I knew enough medically in the beginning to know that some things were impossible medically for him, but it had to be impossible for man not for God, and to give God the glory.”
Monica says that things they didn’t ’t think could be done are now being done for Joshua through God.
The human in her sometimes says he doesn’t deserve this, then she remembers that Jesus didn’t deserve what happened to him. “Yet he took it and all my sins,” she said.
Monica says she often puts herself into Mary’s shoes as a mother. “She watched her son get crucified for the weight of the world and I realize that is one person hears Joshua’s story and comes to Christ, then it’s worth it. Jjust one.”
As far as the future, Monica say she does see a full recovery coming. ‘Not that I have ever doubted Joshua or God, but I had my low point in the beginning. We were at one of his doctors visits in Morgantown in the beginning, and Joshua was just laying there like he did right after the accident. He wasn’t moving or anything and I told God, ‘I need you,’” she recalls.
She asked God to giver her a sign. “If you are going to heal my son on this earth before you return, I need a big movement. Before the doctor comes in, I need a movement,” she said. As she sat staring at her son in the moment, he had been laying there staring at the wall with his face away from her. While she asked God for that sign, Joshua turned his face and looked directly at her.
“I immediately asked God, ‘If that was you, I need another sign,’ and Joshua, who had turned back to the wall once again, turned back to look at me.”
As the doctor knocked on the door to come in, Monica said Joshua began to kick and show off his movements.
Monica says that she doesn’t believe in the word normal anymore, and she is fully believing that God will give Joshua a full recovery.
“His baseline I believe is going to be bigger than ‘normal,’ because he is going to be whole and telling people his story,” she says. “He will let people know that there is hope for whatever you’re going through.”
Monica says there was a prayer they use to say when Joshua would go and wrestle, “When times get tough, we get tougher and never give up.”
“He has lived that out the whole time,” she says.
Joshua will continue his physical therapy, acupuncture, and occupational therapy. He also has the goal of doing blocks of 40 dives in his chamber and then rest 30 days before repeating - all of which is made possible by donations to Joshua’s trust fund. The community has come together to support Joshua during this horrendous time. There had been different fundraisers for him as well, and all of this is another example of how God has put people into Joshua’s life at the perfect time.
“Brain and spinal injured people are written off by insurances; they only want to medicate them,” Monica says. “We can only afford the thing we have by donations,” she added. “We are so very thankful for those who have helped.”
If you would like to donate for medical care for Joshua or if you would like to follow his story, you can visit Facebook at “He’s fighting, We’re believing.”
It is the hope of Joshua’s family that everyone will see the strength of God, and witness first hand what happens when God shows up!