This time last year, one Alexandria man thought a diagnosis would mean drastic changes to his independence and mobility, but thanks to a lot of prayer, support from the community and the J.C. Blair Therapy and Wellness Center, this man has made a recovery that some could describe as miraculous.
Harry Snyder, who lives in Hartslog Valley, Porter Township, has been in a wheelchair for 18 years for other nervous system issues, but a bout of food poisoning in August 2017 set him on a course to ultimately change his life for the better.
After his illness, Snyder said he started to experience other symptoms, like blurry vision and pain in his arms, so he went to the emergency room, and then to UPMC Altoona for further observation.
“They initially thought I had a stroke, but the test didn’t show anything,” he said. “I ended up in Altoona, where I had no clue what happened to me. Three weeks later, I realized I was in the intensive care unit and was on a feeding tube.”
While at UPMC Altoona, Snyder was diagnosed with Guillian-Barre syndrome, a rare disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks the nerves. It’s often diagnosed after an infectious illness, such as a respiratory infection or stomach virus.
After his time at UPMC Altoona, Snyder was transferred to a facility in Johnstown where he had to have a feeding tube and a tracheostomy so he could eat and breathe properly. He also was unable to move any extremity and could not speak. Snyder was then moved to a facility in Ebensburg, and didn’t come home until February 2018.
When he came home, he still had a feeding tube, and he first went to the J.C. Blair Therapy and Wellness Center to find ways to eventually remove the feeding tube.
“They sent me to a dietician, then to Dr. Michael Gaugler so I could have the feeding tube removed,” he said. “I know when I first came home, I couldn’t bend my hands, and it took two people to help me take a shower.”
It was during this time his wife, Cindy, heard of a family member who had benefitted from aquatic therapy at J.C. Blair Therapy and Wellness Center.
In June 2018, Snyder started aquatic therapy three times a week, and he noticed a remarkable difference. It was during this time he was able to take his first steps in 17 years.
Since then, Snyder has been graduated to “land” therapy two days a week, and still does aquatic therapy once a week.
“I’m still in my wheelchair at least 75 percent of the time, but now I can walk,” he said. “(The staff has) all been wonderful here. This is something where you can’t even imagine how it feels. My grandkids never have seen me walk.”
His wife said he’s never been able to just take a trip to a store and walk inside, and with the help of the therapists and aquatic therapy at the J.C. Blair Therapy and Wellness Center, he’s now able to do just that.
“He’s never been able to just walk into Walmart, and now he can,” she said.
The Snyders, however, are also grateful to the community for their endless support through Harry’s health issues.
“The community has been fantastic,” said Cindy. “I know the (Stone Valley) Lions Club had a hootennanny for us, and the Juniata Valley High School Sustainability Club has done things for us. We’ve been on prayer chains at churches all along the East Coast. Though we don’t have a church home ourselves, we never have discounted the power of prayer.”
Now with the help of the community and the resources available at J.C. Blair Therapy and Wellness Center, Snyder said he was able to get back to selling an item he is known for at Hartslog Day this year — his customized walking canes.
“He was able to get there this year with the inventory he has,” said Cindy.
Cindy also said through this journey, it was important not to focus on why this was happening to him, but Harry said he would much rather go through this himself than to see anyone in his family go through his health issues.
However, Cindy and Harry both agree by telling their story, they hope to be a voice for others who may be suffering from similar issues in silence.
“Maybe this is something that happened so we can advocate for others,” said Cindy.
“It’s been a heck of a ride,” said Harry.