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Stillwater firefighter battling Guillain-Barre syndrome

The CDC says it sees about 3,000 to 6,000 cases of Guillain-Barre per year.

ST PAUL, Minn. — Just last month, Priscilla Shannon would have never imagined she'd be celebrating her 18th wedding anniversary with her husband, Ryan Smith, in the ICU.

"Eighteen years; we celebrated our 18th wedding anniversary in the hospital," Shannon said with a laugh. Despite the circumstances, she emphasized she was still grateful to be able to celebrate together.

"The week of July 17, he was up in International Falls traveling for work," she said. "Came down with a virus, came home, didn't feel well, thought he had COVID. Tested [negative] for COVID, tested [negative] for strep. Progressively got worse where his throat wasn't working and he couldn't swallow."

Eventually he was admitted to Regions Hospital in St. Paul, where a neurologist confirmed it was Guillain-Barre syndrome.

"It was something that they had kind of thrown around and the two forms he came up with are two very rare forms," Shannon explained. "In fact, one affects his facial muscles, so he's completely paralyzed. His eyes are open now — they were fully closed. He can see out of his eyes but everything else is fully paralyzed and his throat is fully paralyzed. He's not able to use his vocal chords — he can't fully protect his throat, he can't swallow, he can't speak."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, they see about 3,000 to 6,000 cases of Guillain-Barre syndrome a year. However, according to Shannon, Ryan's case is even more rare because he has two forms of it.

"The neurologist [said] they maybe see one case of this every three years, but not both cases of Guilliain-Barre at the same time, so it's really rare what he had," she said.

Shannon said currently, Ryan is remaining strong, but is a bit confused as to how a healthy person can get so sick all at once.

"I think he wants to know, 'I was healthy and driving a firetruck from the Lumberjack Day parade on the 17 of July, and 17 of August, I'm fighting for my life at Regions, trying to get better.'"

In terms of prognosis, it's somewhat good.

"Eighty percent can make some sort of recovery to where they can live their life," Shannon explained. "But it's going to be a long process, probably over a year of rehab for him."

In the meantime, Shannon said the Stillwater community has been generous with both their time and money.

Even at the hospital, she said she also feels cared for. She mentioned being able to bring in their dog as comfort, which made her happy.

"It's a long road — I think the recovery process is upwards of a year," Shannon said. "I think that's what they're telling him. If he were home by Christmas, it would be a blessing — I think especially for the kids."

Ryan and Priscilla have three kids together. The community has set up a GoFundMe for the family, which you can find here.

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