After a month in therapy at Madonna Rehabilitation Hospitals, Tyler Curnes is back in his glass workshop at Main Street Studios in Elkhorn, Nebraska. The 31-year-old glassblower says it was hard to be away from his store during the busy season leading up to the holidays, but is proud that he’s back to work before the New Year.
“Being back here in my shop, the first time I stepped in the doors, I think I had a few tears come out,” Tyler said. “Walking through the front door with my wife holding my hand was one of the best feelings I’ve ever had in my life.”
In October 2021, Tyler noticed some numbness and tingling in his feet. He didn’t think anything of it, but over a few days, the numbness progressed up his legs and his arms. He went to an area hospital, where doctors thought he had a bulging disc.
“It just didn’t feel right when they sent me home,” Curnes said. “I made my wife take me to a different emergency room, this time at Bergan Mercy, where doctors diagnosed me with Guillain-Barre. I was actually on a ventilator for a few days.”
Dr. Brett Rosauer, a resident physician at Madonna, said Guillain-Barre syndrome can be unpredictable, but one thing is for certain—it is a slow recovery process.
“Guillain-Barre is a syndrome where your body starts attacking itself, and primarily the nerves of the body,” Rosauer said. “Generally, we think there might have been an infection that preceded the actual damage to the nerves happening, usually within three to seven days. It’s tricky because not everyone’s course is the same.”
When he arrived at Madonna, Tyler had already been weaned off the ventilator, and Rosauer said he was impressed with the level of muscle strength Tyler had when he arrived.
Along with muscle strength, Tyler had a can-do attitude and determination to get better. He was motivated by the desire to return to his independence and his business. His care team customized his rehabilitation plan and enrolled him in Madonna’s Work Re-Entry program. Patients are able to simulate aspects of their career and incorporate those skills into therapy.
“When my therapists asked what I did for work so they could know what skills we needed to work on, I thought to myself, ‘Oh, this is going to be interesting,’” Tyler joked. “My therapists had to try and replicate really odd tools throughout the entire process.”
Tyler’s biggest challenges were limited activity tolerance, balance and muscle coordination. In physical therapy, he improved his stability and cognition while following specific directions to create structures of PVC pipe, similar to when a client requests a custom piece of glass art.
He further strengthened his muscles and enhanced his endurance in aquatic therapy utilizing Madonna’s thoughtfully designed warm water pool.
“It was very important for Tyler to get back to what he was doing for work as a glassblower, so we got really creative trying to find ways to work on his balance and challenge his skills and abilities,” Abby Pauley, an occupational therapist at Madonna, said.
Pauley crafted a device that allowed Tyler to simulate the process of glass-blowing using a cane and a weight. This skill requires great coordination, muscle dexterity, strength and precision to form molten glass into the correct shape without breaking.
“He was able to mimic and recreate what he does at work with a little extra effort,” Pauley said. “I made it a little tougher than it would be at work to just really challenge his balance and challenge those skills to make sure he would be comfortable and successful when he does go home.”
Always eager to test himself more, Tyler added an extra challenge to therapy—multi-tasking. He would teach his care team about his craft while hard at work.
His positive attitude and strong drive to return to work made him stand out to his care team.
“He was always able to have fun and he would try any of the crazy ideas that I had, because he saw the value in those crazy ideas,” Pauley said. “He was willing to do whatever it took to get back to where he wanted to be and that showed.”
Tyler’s goal was to be home in time for Christmas. Nearly a month ahead of schedule, Tyler walked out of Madonna. He then hit the ground running in Madonna’s Rehabilitation Day Outpatient Program, and will return to work in the New Year.
“I have a really good story of GBS because I’m mobile, and really, I’m able to do it all,” Tyler said. “They say I still have three plus months for my nerves to reconnect fully, and to know that I’m doing this well with three more months of healing helps me know that I’m going to be ok. That’s all thanks to Madonna.”