Patrick Henry Hughes inspires KCS teachers

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Meredith Mooney, Investigation Editor

“I can’t do it” a student yells at his band teacher because he is having trouble remembering the notes. The student may be having trouble, but is he in a wheelchair? Does he have eyes? Can he stretch his arms and legs?

Patrick Henry Hughes has many bigger challenges than this student, but he says, “I can.”

Hughes has bilateral anophthalmia and tergyia syndrome. This means that, because he can’t spread his arms and legs all the way out, he can’t walk. It also means that he was born with all the necessities for eyes, but his eyeballs did not develop.

“There’s really no explanation as to why,” Hughes aid. “I was born blind and have never been able to see.”

Hughes’ inspirational story has brought him world-wide attention. Over the 2018 summer, he and his father came to the Kingsport City Schools convocation to talk to the teachers.

“We were contacted by Kingsport City Schools, and said that we would be glad to share our story,” Hughes said.

Despite his “different abilities”, as he calls them, Hughes is resilient.

“There really was never a point where I said I couldn’t do something,” he said.

Hughes has been musically inclined since he was about four months old. His father sat him up on the piano bench and young Hughes played with one finger on the keys. Later, he would associate different sounds with different voices.

At nine months old, Hughes could play songs from his nursery rhyme tapes. He continued this passion through college, where he played trumpet in the Louisville marching band.

Finding an instrument for Hughes was difficult.

“When I joined the band, I wanted to play the drums,” Hughes said. “I discovered that in order to play a drum set properly, you have to move your body in certain ways, which I can’t do.”

Hughes’ parents bought him a trumpet, knowing that his family could help him with it, since some of them play the trumpet too. He embraced the trumpet, but he did not have the band experience that other students had.

“I had participated in high school, but I only sat on the sidelines,” he said.

When he got into college, the band teacher there took his career to a new level. Dr. Greg Byrne, the band director, made the decision to include Hughes further by making him a part of the marching formations.

“He saw me not as a blind kid in a wheelchair, so to speak, but as a trumpet player that he would enjoy having in his band,” Hughes said.

Hughes and his family were drawing blanks as to how to transport him from one formation to the next. Hughes thought the whole thing was impractical.

“Yeah, right, I’m blind and in a wheelchair and I’m going to march, sure, whatever,” he said.

Finally, the Hughes family came up with a plan. Hughes’ father, Patrick John Hughes, would push his wheelchair into the formations. Not only that, but he would transport him to his classes and events, all while working the night shift at UPS.

To Hughes, his life as a blind student in a wheelchair with a full night’s rest, was not so tough compared to his father, a selfless husband and dad, hoping to get the luxury of two hours of rest.

“I really had nothing to complain about,” he said.

Hughes’ parents have always played a big role in his life, not just when new obstacles arose.

“They never really stressed the things that I couldn’t do, but rather the things that I could do,” Hughes said.

With his amazing story of triumph, and bravery in the face of all doubt, Hughes’ story is one worth spreading. Hughes encourages students to live “like it’s the last day of summer vacation”, to love and be grateful.

“Just remember that life is a blessing,” he said. “There are lots of challenges in life, and sometimes you wonder how you’re going to get through it, but just continue to enjoy life and live every day to its fullest.”

He encourages everybody to live in the moment.

“Yesterday has come and gone,” Hughes said. “There’s nothing we can do about it. We’re not always guaranteed tomorrow. All we have, and I know it seems like a lot, but it’s really just this little- bitty 24 hour space that makes up today, so enjoy each moment. Live it to its fullest.”

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