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Onalaska man overcomes rare syndrome with Gundersen expertise

Onalaska man overcomes rare syndrome with Gundersen expertise
Monday, March 06, 2023


Jeff Arndt remembers well the day his legs failed him.  

“I go to the grocery store, I leave and go out to my truck to unload my groceries and I just drop,” he says. “I just fell over.” 

That was the beginning of what would become a battle with a rare disease that he never saw coming, one that would usher him to the brink of life. But thanks to quick thinking clinicians at Gundersen La Crosse campus and effective swing bed care at Gundersen St. Joseph’s Hospital and Clinics in Hillsboro, Arndt is once again living a normal life – something he couldn’t have imagined at his lowest moments. 

‘Something’s going on’

It was a warm day in August when the 59-year-old was out running errands. He woke up that morning with tingling in his hands, but he attributed that to sleeping on them, so he went on with his day. Then came the incident in the grocery store parking lot. 

Arndt gathered himself off the pavement, got in his truck and drove home. Once he got there, he stepped out of his vehicle and once again dropped immediately. Again, he was able to regain his composure, enough to get into his house, where he fell to the floor a third time. 

“Okay, three times in a row, something’s going on, and I can’t feel my hands,” Arndt remembers thinking.  

He managed to get himself to urgent care at Gundersen Onalaska Clinic, where it was initially thought he was having a stroke. But all tests came back negative, so he went back home. Arndt still couldn’t feel his hands the next day, and on the third day, he fell again, so he drove himself to the emergency room at Gundersen La Crosse Hospital.  

“I get to the desk at the ER, ready to say something to them, and I just dropped right in front of the desk,” he says. “I said, ‘I’m not drunk. I haven’t been at the bars. I just can’t walk.’” 

 Again, an MRI came back negative. All bloods tests were clear. He went home again.  

The pattern of days where he felt fine, then had problems, persisted, and it progressively got worse. Just four days after his first fall, Arndt could no longer stand. The next morning, he took an ambulance back to the hospital, as he’d now lost feeling below the waist.  

A concerning situation turns critical

Arndt was admitted for observation in the neurological unit for three days. Another MRI turned up nothing, so because he was stable, he was transferred to rehabilitation. That night, his chest cavity became numb. He couldn’t breathe, and he was paralyzed from the neck down. 

“I’m gasping for air. Nothing’s going in,” Arndt says. “My lungs were collapsing, my kidneys were failing, my pancreas was failing, my liver was failing.” 

He was rushed to critical care, where doctors connected virtually – in the middle of the night – with a physician at New York University who specializes in Guillain-Barre syndrome, which is a rare disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks the nerves. The NYU physician confirmed the diagnosis.  

Gundersen clinicians knew they had to act fast to save Arndt’s life, so he was intubated and given IVIG, which contains new antibodies that replace those in the body, which can then fight the virus. The rest of the night was a blank. He woke up the next morning with tubes and lines everywhere, facing a long road to recovery. 

Arndt spent 60 days in the hospital, where he went through multiple tests, had several procedures done, and was under near-constant surveillance. Slowly, the interventions worked, and eventually, he was able to breathe on his own again. Then one day, he raised his arm, and a couple days later, he could wiggle his toes.  

“(The IVIG) was working,” he says. “I was starting to get movement back in my body.” 

Arndt stabilized enough to be discharged to rehab, though he still couldn’t move his entire body. More physical and occupational therapy ensued. Eventually, there came a point where Arndt needed a more long-term solution for his recovery, away from the La Crosse hospital. 

Swing Bed at St. Joseph’s

So, he moved into swing bed care at Gundersen St. Joseph’s Hospital, which allowed him to remain in a hospital setting and receive expert-level care in a system he knows. He didn’t hesitate when given the option, and he wasn’t disappointed. 

“Every room has a view of the lake. It’s beautiful down there,” he says of Gundersen St. Joseph’s. “They have a mini Planet Fitness there. Their rehab facility is amazing. 

“Everybody there was just as professional and amazing as they were (in La Crosse).” 

But it wouldn’t be medicine at Gundersen without love. Arndt recalls the little extras during his stay – things staff did to make him feel special, such as making him a chocolate shake when he craved one or chipping in to buy him dinner from a local restaurant on Fridays. 

“I had fun there,” he says with a laugh. “I made some good friends there, and I made some good friends (in La Crosse) who I keep in touch with.” 

After 25 days at Gundersen St. Joseph’s, he was at long last discharged, with the use of a wheelchair. Five weeks later, to everyone’s astonishment, Arndt paid the staff in Hillsboro a visit – walking through the front doors on his own. Now, he regularly walks through the doors at both facilities to visit the people who gave him his life back. 

“It’s been almost six months, and I’m back on my feet, I’m back to work, I’m driving,” he says. “Everything’s come back.” 

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