The Reisig family – former residents of Aldergrove – are seeing the holidays in a whole new light after Matt miraculously recovered from the rare onset of a syndrome (Guillian-Barre) that paralyzed the 32-year-old father in March. (Submitted photo)

The Reisig family – former residents of Aldergrove – are seeing the holidays in a whole new light after Matt miraculously recovered from the rare onset of a syndrome (Guillian-Barre) that paralyzed the 32-year-old father in March. (Submitted photo)

‘I’m just happy to be alive’: Once-paralyzed B.C. father makes a full recovery

Matt Reisig recovers, celebrating a Christmas he once thought impossible

Aldergrove-born Matt Reisig is back at home, making holiday memories with his wife and one-year-old daughter Ayla this Christmas.

It’s something many, including Reisig himself, thought impossible after being paralyzed chest-down by Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS) in late February.

Reisig was unable to breathe on his own, eat, and hug “daddy’s little girl” for months after first being rushed to Peace Arch Hospital, with what felt like the flu.

RELATED: Paralyzed young father’s condition now stabilizing

“It was tingling in my arms and legs,” Reisig described, “an overall weakness.”

Now, Reisig hopes to raise awareness about GBS – a mysterious inflammatory disorder where the immune system attacks its nerves instead of the virus the body is sick with, according to Muscular Dystrophy Canada.

There is no known cause for the condition.

Initially after falling ill, Reisig – a small-business owner and painter – remembers trying to push back client appointments one week, offering them a discount as an incentive for waiting.

But within seven days, on March 7, the 32-year-old father would be intubated and on life support.

“It’s still hard to talk about,” Reisig told the Aldergrove Star.

“I don’t want anyone else to go through what I went through.”

After the initial GBS diagnosis, the disorder sucked the “drive” out of him, along with the loss of his motor skills except for slight head, shoulder, and face movements including nods and eyelid twitches.

“I thought GBS had ruined my life,” Reisig told the Aldergrove Star.

Through it all, his wife Ashley stuck by his side at Surrey Memorial Hospital’s intensive care unit, managing to sleep nightly on a pull-out couch in his room.

“I would come home once every four days or so,” she explained. Even her mother, Ayla’s grandmother, relocated from Kamloops to care for the one-year-old full time.

Ayla was uncomfortable and scared seeing her dad incapacitated.

Ashley became Reisig’s main mode of communication, and ultimate source of hope.

She tuned-in to what her paralyzed husband was mouthing with his lips.

And for when she wasn’t in his room, Ashley made a whiteboard list of Reisig’s needs and feelings.

For instance: “I need… suction, a nurse, my wife. Or I feel cold, pain,” she said about the list. Reisig reacted to truths pointed out the only way he could, in minute movements.

“When Matt was at his worst, I was constantly telling him, ‘It’s going to be okay, I know it isn’t now but it will be’ and, ‘This will end. This isn’t forever’ and ‘You’re going to make it through this.’”

A turning point came after Reisig faced a week of especially painful nerve pain, but with extreme effort, moved his fingers. 

Unbeknownst to Reisig, Ashley had been posting regular status updates to her Facebook page, chronicling 147 days of her husband’s condition.

Soon the statuses became the only connection the patient had to the outside world.

Bedridden and defeated, “it got to the point where if Ashley wasn’t there I would ask others to read my update and the comments,” Resig retold.

When he managed to gain wrist and arm movement, he read through all the messages on his own and “had a good cry,” he said.

“You don’t really know how big your village is until you’re going through something.”

An online GoFundMe account for the family has raised over $20,000, which “got [them] through” living and medical expenses, and is still able to accept donations.

There are two days in hospital Reisig will always remember: his wedding anniversary and his first real meal – a reuben sandwich after months of feeding tubes turned-to liquids.

On the Reisigs’ fourth wedding anniversary, he asked his physiotherapist to help him sketch a heart on canvas with the words “I love you.”

The artwork that Resig said “looks like our daughter did it” now rests on their bedside table at home.

Throughout the five-month ordeal, Reisig said he lost a total of 45 pounds, all of which he has gained back, “and five pounds more,” he chuckled.

Undoubtedly, the most crucial part of Reisig’s recovery from GBS was “getting off the ventilator,” Ashley explained. “We would go down to the lowest level of it and then Matt would panic.

READ MORE: Aldergrove father fights for his life after flu turns paralyzing

“It was a mental switch that had to happen in him,” she said. After that occurred, within a week Reisig was breathing on his own, lungs strengthening from their use.

“I told myself I was going to walk again,” Reisig explained about his fight for life. And after 16 weeks in the hospital, he did just that.

Reisig returned home to South Surrey on July 24.

Since going public, Reisig has been able to connect with other victims of GBS, ones as young as 11 years old.

“One boy felt like he couldn’t connect with anyone because of what he went through,” Reisig said about a Calgary child who was diagnosed with GBS.

“He remembers screaming in his head like I did,” frustrated by the inability to move or communicate.

Ashley has also been sent hundreds of messages from people all over the world affected by the disease.

Christmas this year looks a lot different for the Reisigs, who before GBS, found the holidays a hectic time of obligation.

“I’m walking every day, hitting the gym… Ayla likes to lay on my chest and sit with me and watch TV,” Reisig beamed.

The Reisigs have dedicated time to visit with Santa and watch their daughter’s face light-up in wonder of the season.

“It’s all so surreal,” Ashley said.

Just Posted

Victoria-born, 16-time Grammy winning musician David Foster penned a letter to the Greater Victoria School District May 7 urging them not to cut music programs. (THE CANADIAN PRESS)
David Foster joins fight to save music in Greater Victoria School District

‘Music is the great equalizer’ Foster wrote in a letter to the district

‘Nindanikoobijiganag: We are Star People’ by Mississauga Nishnaabe Lucbanin artist Estrella Whetung. (Jane Skrypnek/News Staff)
Victoria beadwork exhibit speaks to evolving, enduring nature of Indigenous art

On Beaded Ground features work from West Coast artists and a Cedar Hill Middle School group

Former Victoria HarbourCat and Chicago White Sox player Andrew Vaughn. (Photo courtesy of Chicago White Sox)
Former Victoria HarbourCat hits first MLB home run, adds another two days later

Andrew Vaughn is the first HarbourCat alumni to hit a homer in the majors

A seniors housing complex proposed for Cedar Hill Road in Saanich was supported by council after a public hearing on May 12. (Rendering by Jenson Group Architects)
New 85-unit seniors housing development gets green light from Saanich council

Four-storey rental complex would be located on Cedar Hill Road

Daily confirmed COVID-19 cases reported to B.C. public health, seven-day rolling average in white, to May 12, 2021. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C. preparing ‘Restart 2.0’ from COVID-19 as June approaches

Daily infections fall below 500 Friday, down to 387 in hospital

On Friday, May 14 at Meadow Gardens Golf Club in Pitt Meadows, Michael Caan joined a very elite club of golfers who have shot under 60 (Instagram)
Crowds at English Bay were blasted with a large beam of light from an RCMP Air-1 helicopter on Friday, May 14. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marc Grandmaison
Police enlist RCMP helicopter to disperse thousands crowded on Vancouver beach

On Friday night, police were witness to ‘several thousand people staying well into the evening’

Sinikka Gay Elliott was reported missing on Salt Spring Island on Wednesday, May 12. (Courtesty Salt Spring RCMP)
Body of UBC professor found on Salt Spring Island, no foul play suspected

Sinikka Elliott taught sociology at the university

The first Black judge named to the BC Supreme Court, Selwyn Romilly, was handcuffed at 9:15 a.m. May 14 while walking along the seawall. (YouTube/Screen grab)
Police apologize after wrongly arresting B.C.’s first Black Supreme Court Justice

At 81 years old, the retired judge was handcuffed in public while out for a walk Friday morning

Queen Elizabeth II and Clive Holland, deputy commonwealth president of the Royal Life Saving Society, top left, virtually present Dr. Steve Beerman, top right, with the King Edward VII Cup for his drowning-prevention work. Tanner Gorille and Sarah Downs were honoured with Russell Medals for their life-saving resuscitation. (Buckingham Palace photo)
Queen presents Vancouver Island doctor with award for global drowning prevention

Dr. Steve Beerman receives Royal Life Saving Society’s King Edward VII Cup at virtual ceremony

Former UFV Cascades wrestling coach Arjan Singh Bhullar is now the ONE heavyweight champion after defeating Brandon Vera via TKO in round two on Saturday in Singapore. (ONE Championship)
Former UFV wrestling coach wins MMA championship

Arjan Singh Bhullar captures ONE heavyweight title, first Indian origin fighter to achieve honour

Astra Zeneca vaccine waits for injection in a Feb. 3, 2021 file photo. A Langley man has become the second B.C. resident to suffer a blood clot following an injection. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
B.C. man required emergency surgery after AstraZeneca vaccination

Shaun Mulldoon suffered ‘massive blood clot’ after jab

Chilliwack’s Kile Brown, performing as drag queen Hailey Adler, dances and lip syncs in front of hundreds of people during the inaugural Chilliwack Pride Barbecue at the Neighbourhood Learning Centre on Aug. 24, 2019. Monday, May 17 is International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of May 16 to 22

International Day Against Homophobia, Talk Like Yoda Day, Sea Monkey Day all coming up this week

Most Read