Leonard Gebhart was only given a 30 percent chance of survival when he arrived at the Emergency Department of Penticton Regional Hospital.
The Osoyoos man was diagnosed with Guillain Barre Syndrome, a rare auto-immune affliction which attacks the body’s nervous system.
On several occasions over the previous few months, Gebhart had mysteriously collapsed without warning. Local physicians ordered blood tests which showed no signs of abnormality.
Gebhart said he was being treated for a lung infection in the early spring of 2018 when other problems started to appear.
“As the infection was going away, I started feeling funny things in my legs,” he recalled. “One day, I got out of bed and it felt like people stabbing me with a thousand needles in my legs.”
Another time he fell and didn’t have the strength to get up off the floor. “Then it happened again and I had to call the ambulance people to come and help me.”
In May 2018, Gebhart collapsed again at home – this time two neighbours, a visiting nurse, and his sister came to help. “I said to my sister: ‘If I don’t get to the hospital within a couple of days, I think I’m gone,” he said.
His sister immediately drove him to PRH. One of the Emergency Department doctors thought she knew what was wrong – and a specialist later confirmed he was suffering from Guillain Barre Syndrome.
Gebhart was put into a drug-induced coma and admitted to the Intensive Care Unit. By this time he was having trouble breathing.
“They gave me a 30 percent chance of surviving. The whole thing was very emotional,” he said.
Although Gebhart said he has no fear of dying, it showed how vulnerable a person can be.
Guillain Barrie Syndrome is marked by a failure of the receptors between the nerves and the muscles.
“You may think you want to move your arm – or walk, but you can’t,” he said. “So I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t even feed myself.”
Gebhart remained in hospital for nine weeks, including three weeks at South Okanagan General Hospital and Sunnybank Centre in Oliver, as he began a lengthy rehabilitation process.
“Overall I got really good treatment in Penticton. They pushed me – they knew I was driven to get out of hospital,” he said. “One nurse said to me: ‘I’ve had five people come in with this and they all walked out of here. I want you to walk out of here too.”
A year later, he goes to the local gym three times a week and is active in the community again as president of the Oliver Kiwanis Club and volunteering with other organizations. He still has some balance issues but nothing like before, as well as some minor speech difficulties and working his facial muscles.
Leonard Gebhart is an enthusiastic supporter of the South Okanagan Similkameen Medical Foundation’s efforts to provide the medical equipment for the PRH expansion. The SOS Medical Foundation has $1.2 million left to raise in its $20-million campaign. For more information visit www.sosmedicalfoundation.com or call their office at 250-492-9027.