What began as an annoying foot tingle morphed into a medical nightmare for Roy Kelsey. On Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2012, Roy noticed his feet were numb and “going to sleep.” The 48-year-old worked Labor Day weekend cutting trees near his home in St. Joseph, Mo., and thought he’d pinched a nerve. A visit to his chiropractor didn’t provide any relief. By Thursday, the tingling sensation spread to Roy’s hands and the pain sent him to the emergency room at Heartland Regional Medical Center in St. Joseph, Mo. Doctors believed he was suffering from nerve damage caused by the physical labor and sent him home.
On Friday, Roy’s health was rapidly declining and by the time his doctor scheduled more tests at the hospital, he couldn’t stand. A spinal tap confirmed Roy had contracted Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS). “I’d never heard of it before,” said Roy. His fiancé, Lana Robinson, and his family, researched the uncommon disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks its own nerves. “That’s when I learned I was a rare statistic,” said Roy. GBS is uncommon, affecting only 1 or 2 people per 100,000.1 Weakness and tingling in the extremities are usually the first symptoms. These sensations can spread swiftly and eventually paralyze the body – that was Roy’s outcome.
During his month-long hospitalization, Roy quit breathing twice and had to be intubated. “It was terrifying for Lana and my family,” said Roy. “I’m so grateful to be alive!”
When Roy was admitted to Madonna’s Long Term Acute Care Hospital (LTACH) on Oct. 8, he was tethered to a ventilator, trach and feeding tube. Roy communicated through grunting and slight head movements as nurses transferred him in and out of bed with a Vanderlift, a battery-operated lift system. A gregarious and active guy, Roy felt trapped in a bad dream.
“Seeing Roy when he first got here, I thought to myself, wow, this is probably as bad as it gets,” said Darin Forman, a registered nurse on LTACH, who himself is a GBS survivor. Despite his weakened state, Roy was dedicated to his daily therapy. The nursing and respiratory teams gradually weaned Roy off the ventilator and feeding tube – celebrating when he could breathe and eat independently. With each step, Roy moved closer to his main goal – to walk again.
Within four weeks, Roy’s arms and legs felt normal again. He transferred to Madonna’s Acute level and through a specially designed care program, his therapy intensified. “I kept telling everyone I am going to walk out of here,” said Roy. Using technology like the Moveo™, Proprio 4000™ and Lokomat®, restored Roy’s leg strength and coordination. In aqua therapy, his stamina and balance increased using the water’s resistance and ankle weights.
As an estimator and project manager, Roy relies heavily on his hands. In occupational therapy, tasks like folding clothes and frying an egg revived his dexterity. Recreational outings to play shuffleboard and air hockey provided social and physical outlets.
Cheerleaders through Roy’s recovery fueled his positivity. Darin, sharing his own fight with GBS, proved invaluable insight. “Darin was awesome and let me know what to expect,” said Roy. His family and Lana offered constant encouragement. Roy’s employer, Brooner Construction and Crane, is holding his job. Company executives visited Roy, upgraded his cell phone and added free service. “They’ve been incredible,” said Roy.
On Dec. 22, Roy was ecstatic to rejoin his family in Missouri. He can walk 1,000 feet aided by a walker, and plans to transition to a cane. Roy says his battle with GBS made him appreciate his loved ones. “Life’s too short – I got a nice Christmas present to go home early.”