Betsy (Anderson) Banowetz, class of 2005; Brian Banowetz, class of 2004
"I remember laying on my hospital bed, tears streaming down my face as I grappled with the reality of missing my son's very first day of his first year of school- Ever. Brian had gone to Target and purchased 2 backpacks, a rainbow of colored options of folders and notebooks, the markers and pencils and all the things, and then he laid them all out on the couch in my hospital room. Hudson came to visit me, and we "shopped" together for all his school supplies- there in my room on the 6th floor of St. Lukes."
Life had been tipped on its head just 3.5 weeks earlier when Betsy had climbed out of bed on a Monday morning and noticed that her toes were tingly. She figured that they had fallen asleep in the night and assumed it would quickly pass. Newly pregnant with their third after a miscarriage just weeks before, a phone call to her doctor the next day when the tingling was still present and had, in fact, spread to her hands and lips was simply credited to changing hormones and potentially pinched nerves in pregnancy.
However, the next day (Wednesday), they headed to the ER when symptoms progressed and she experienced weakness and balance issues leaving it hard to walk. Bloodwork, an MRI, and physical exams all looked good, however, so they were sent home with no answers.
By the time Friday rolled around, Betsy could no longer reposition herself in bed or raise her right arm at all. Brian carried her into the bathroom and she fell flat on her face trying to stand. In the end, they were sent down to the University of Iowa where a spinal tap and EKG confirmed the doctor's diagnosis, Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS). Normally affecting those over 60 with only 1-2 people infected out of every 100,000, the doctor called it "winning the lottery."
"I remember laying there, being prodded with needles during the EKG, just completely focused on making sure my baby was ok and 100% confident that I would be walking out of those hospital doors within a week. It all came on so quickly, I *knew* it would all come back to me quickly as well. I remember Brian asking the doctors questions and trying to learn what my prognosis was, and the head neurologist stated, very matter of factly, 'If we can stop the progression, we will call it a success.' Later, Brian would tell me that his mind started reeling with images of wheelchairs and chair lifts and moving to a single story home. I did not. I clung stubbornly to my hope of ‘4 days down, 4 days back.’”
The doctors finished their tests and admitted Betsy down at the U. She was able to FaceTime with their 2 and 4 year old and order a little something for dinner. As the doctors made their rounds, one looked at her plate of food and told her to, "Enjoy your dinner. I think you will be intubated tonight so it will be the last one you eat for a while."
To the doctors' surprise, Betsy wasn't intubated that night. Respiratory therapists came every 3 hours, testing the strength of her diaphragm with each blow. While her capacity was certainly diminished, it did not dip low enough to require mechanical breathing, and Brian and Betsy survived the night while Betsy received rounds of IVIG to “put a bandaid” on the paralyzing symptoms of GBS.
When the weekend passed and discharged was discussed, Betsy's condition remained unchanged. The "4 days down, 4 days back" optimism plummeted, and doctor after doctor came in to encourage her to transfer to St. Luke's for inpatient rehabilitation instead of trying to head home. The last doctor looked her in the eyes and said, "I know you are anxious to get home to your kids, and I know that a few weeks away from them in the hospital feels like forever. But I would rather see you take weeks or months away from them now to get back to 100% then live forever at 70% and never fully recover."
His perspective convinced her, and later that day, Brian and Betsy travelled back north to Cedar Rapids where they checked in to St. Luke's 6West, inpatient rehabilitation unit.
Convinced it would be a few quick days if she could try hard enough, Betsy gave it her all. When her Physical Therapist met her in her room, he asked if she knew how to transfer onto the bed, and she confidently replied that she could get into the bed on her own... and quickly collapsed on the floor.
Recovery wasn't quick or painless. It involved a devastating relapse and more time spent down at the University of Iowa Hospital.
Married at barely 20, Brian and Betsy had been doing life together for over a decade. Their relationship had started in high school at Cedar Valley with notes scribbled on notebook paper before being folded into little triangular footballs and passed across the classroom. They’d gotten married early and forged into adulthood, side by side.
Now, Brian washed her hair and shaved her legs. The “in sickness” part of their vows was tested in new ways, but he held her hand and didn’t let go, even when the days were hard. There were faints and falls and so many tears of discouragement and frustration.
But there was also grace upon grace.
"When we came back from our second stay down at the U, Brian and I decided to make a thankfulness banner and write down something we were specifically thankful for each day. I came back to St. Luke's with a new perspective and the most indescribable peace and joy. We never felt as perfectly in God's will as we were for those 5 weeks in the hospital. We could control NOTHING about our circumstances, but we clung to the One who could. And what used to be painful, discouragingly slow progress suddenly felt like small little miracles that we got to celebrate each day."
Betsy did go on to miss Hudson's first day of preschool at CVCS. She missed 35 tuck ins at bedtime and 5 weeks of snuggles at naps.
But she experienced God's sustaining grace in entirely new and tangible ways during that time. Every step she took was a literal miracle, and gift upon undeserved gift was savored in the form of ditching the wheelchair, walker, cane until at last she was home, hugging her babies and climbing steps all on her own.
Eventually, after 5 weeks in the hospital and several more months of outpatient physical therapy, Betsy did make a total and complete recovery. In the spring, their 3rd child- a girl- was born healthy, spunky, and whole.
Brian says, “I remember Mr. Fogle sharing an illustration in Family Living class during high school. When you are young and single, you are like a piece of stone, freshly broken free, covered in rough edges, near the head of a stream. But as time passes and you are tumbled down the stream, bumping into marriage, kids, and life, those rough edges become refined and worn off until at the end a smooth, polished stone emerges.”
GBS provided quite the refining current, and that stream led in some unexpected ways. But neither Brian nor Betsy would change the events of that summer and fall in 2015 for anything, ever thankful for the growth and grace that they ultimately provided.
Today, the Banowetz family takes a lot of hikes.
And every step is a gift, no matter how high they climb.