Suspected flu case leaves B.C. man completely paralyzed with rare syndrome

What started out as a suspected case of the flu has left a B.C. family dealing with a medical nightmare.

Three weeks ago, Matt Reisig was perfectly healthy and running his Lower Mainland painting company.

By Monday, he was in the ICU at Surrey Memorial Hospital, intubated, fully paralyzed and only just beginning to once again have sensation in his body.

Reisig’s wife, Ashley, said it all started with a suspected case of the flu in their daughter Ayla. The bug spread to Ashley and her mother, who were in Kamloops at the time, but missed Matt, who was working in the Lower Mainland.

Ashley and Ayla in hospital visiting Matt.

He travelled up to visit for Ayla’s first birthday late last month and, when he returned to the Lower Mainland, began to feel ill along with having aches and pains.

“I kind of shrugged it off because I thought, ‘You’ve just got man flu,” she said. “The next day, he woke up and he couldn’t walk.”

Ashley says Reisig called 911 and was taken to Peace Arch Hospital where doctors quickly diagnosed him with Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS), an inflammatory disorder along the brain and spinal cord that attacks the body’s immune system.

Reisig’s condition quickly deteriorated. Ashley says over the course of several days, he went from being able to walk a small amount to being unable to move in bed to losing the ability to use his hands or move his head.

He was intubated and transported to Surrey Memorial for more intensive care on March 7 and has been on life support since.

“The doctors are being cautious about telling me anything positive,” she said.

Depending on the extent of nerve damage, Ashley said she’s been told his recovery could take anywhere from several weeks to more than a year. She’s also been told that he could see anything from a full recovery to life in a wheelchair or chronic fatigue.

Ashley and Matt Reisig with their daughter Ayla just months before Matt was paralyzed with GBS.

“The way that the syndrome works is that the two- to four-week mark is the worst; that’s when you get the more severe symptoms and that’s where we’re at,” she said.

“Two days ago, he had no sensation in his body… today, he has full sensation.”

Ashley said doctors still aren’t sure what triggered Matt’s condition.

Medical experts remain in the dark about many aspects of GBS, including why it attacks the immune system and nerves in the body, according to Muscular Dystrophy Canada.

The organization says GBS only affects two to three people in 100,000 and tends to occur in people aged 50 to 80. Matt is just 31.

It says GBS can often follow a viral or bacterial infection but has also been known to occur in rare cases after surgery or vaccinations.

Ashley said she’s hoping Matt’s ordeal can help draw attention to the largely unknown illness.

Matt in a wheelchair earlier in his treatment. Doctors have told the Reisigs that the two- to four-week period is when symptoms of GBS are the worst, but his final prognosis remains unknown.

For now, she said she’s doing her best to stay positive and balance her time in the hospital with time with her daughter — who has been largely in the care of her mother at the family’s White Rock rental home.

“I miss him because he’s my best friend and he’s the one who would normally comfort me through this,” she said.

Ashley has also been chronicling Matt’s story on her Facebook page, where she said the reaction has also helped buoy her spirits.

“So many people have messaged me to say, ‘I have had this and I am better’ or ‘My husband has had this, and he’s better,’” she said.

“[One of them wrote to] me: ‘You’re going to get him back, and he’s going to be able to put his arms you again and he’s going to be able to hold your daughter again’ — those kinds of comments make me very emotional, but they make me very hopeful.”

A GoFundMe campaign to help support the family through Matt’s recovery has raised nearly $12,000.

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