Four western Wisconsin men recover from rare disease


Western Wisconsin (WQOW)- In 2016, Terry Vergin thought he pulled a muscle in his leg. Within hours it progressed into something much worse.

“My wife hollered into me, she said are you going to get out of bed? I said not without your help. I couldn’t get my legs over the side of the bed,” Vergin said.

Things got worse from there, until a doctor finally diagnosed him with Guillain Barre Syndrome.

“They begin to affect your respiratory muscles, facial muscles, the muscles you use to swallow,” said Anne Pretasky a critical care nurse at HSHS Sacred Heart. “There are some people who experience this severely that they need to be hospitalized and on a ventilator for a time.”

The rare autoimmune disease only impacts 3,000-4,000 Americans a year, and in Anne Pretasky’s 26-year nursing career, she’s seen fewer than 10 patients with this syndrome, so four people in the same area seems like a lot.

“I could only move my neck, couldn’t move my arms or shoulders or anything,” Mike Kellen said.

“I was fortunate that it just affected my waist down. My hands, my arms really weren’t affected,” Gary Hausdorf said.

“Thursday night when I went to bed and woke up the next morning I could hardly walk across the room and at night I couldn’t walk, ” Jim Czerwonka said.

The question is: how did these men get this illness?

Terry, Gary and Jim all claim it was the flu shot or a form of the flu that triggered this syndrome Mike said it’s still a mystery.

“There is also a little bit of association with traumatic events, surgery, bacterial infections and then there has been some thought that immunizations, a variety of immunizations, not just the flu shot could potentially be tied to the disease process,” Pretasky said.

The one thing they all had trouble with was walking again.

“My one toe must’ve moved a little and she let a yell out of her for helpers to come see, ‘hey his toe moved,'” Czerwonka said.

Recovery from this syndrome is slow, it can take several months to see just a little progress.

Luckily, all four men are no longer paralyzed, but still, they take it one day at a time.

“Concentrate on what you’re doing. That ground isn’t soft no matter where you land,” Vergin said.

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