On July 22, 2012, Heather Brunty married Dagan Gales in Jackson, Michigan. The future looked bright for these 20-somethings. But three months later, Heather became ill.
She thought it was the flu, but her symptoms didn’t go away. She was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome, a disorder in which your body’s immune system begins attacking the nervous system. For the next seven months, she spent all of her time in and out of hospitals and nursing homes.
She experienced all of the signs of the disease starting with tingling and weakness in her arms and legs. Soon that spread throughout her body, paralyzing most of her movements.
The exact cause of Guillain-Barre syndrome is not known, but it is often preceded by an infectious illness such as a respiratory infection like Heather exhibited.
In May, Heather transferred from an area nursing home where she had been living to the Bronson Battle Creek critical care unit for more rigorous treatments. As often as he can, Dagan drives to Battle Creek from Jackson to spend time with his wife. When he is unable to get to the hospital, the staff serves as her adopted family.
“This young couple barely had a chance to spend time together before Heather’s illness interrupted things,” said Beverly Kelley, a chaplain in the Bronson Battle Creek pastoral care department. “That’s when we decided that they needed a special celebration for their upcoming wedding anniversary. Our gift shop provided a beautiful dress, scarf, and jewelry; and our dietary department printed a special menu and took the Gales’ dinner order, then prepared a gourmet meal for them. Environmental services set up a table with linen and a candle centerpiece as if they were dining in a fancy restaurant. After dinner, we hooked up a DVD player so they could see a movie. They have had a long first year of marriage, much of it apart, and our staff thought it was important to treat them to dinner and movie like many of us are able to have.”
In addition, one of the BBC staff gave Heather a spa treatment before her husband arrived for their date.
There is no known cure for Guillain-Barre, but there are treatments that can ease the symptoms. Many people recover from this syndrome, though some experience longer-lasting effects from it such as weakness and fatigue.
For now, Heather and Dagan are making the most of their times together, planning for their futures and how to live with her condition. All of the BBC family is cheering them on.
Art Streano, BBC executive chef, center, serves a special dinner to Heather and Dagan Gales. Heather is being treated for Guillain-Barre syndrome.