For one woman, giving birth was a dream come true. So, every time she looked at her newborn baby, she couldn’t stop herself from smiling. But, little did she know, just three weeks later her whole life would be turned upside down.
Holly Gerlach comes from Edmonton in Alberta, Canada. Back in 2011, then aged 26, she was the life and soul of the party wherever she went and had plenty of friends. In fact, she had a real lust for life.
In early 2011, she was healthy, happy and looking forward to welcoming her first child. Her pregnancy had gone swimmingly, so when it was time for her to deliver, Gerlach no doubt felt pretty confident about the whole thing.
And when Gerlach gave birth in January 2011, her dreams had come true. In fact, she’d thought about this moment ever since she was a young girl. She held her new daughter, Casey, in her arms and couldn’t wipe the smile from her face.
As Gerlach recovered from childbirth quickly, hospital staff discharged her so that she could start her new life as a mommy at home. At this point, Holly admitted in a YouTube video, “Life was perfect.”
Just three weeks later, however, the new mom began to feel strange. She had a tingling sensation through her fingertips as well as leg weakness. Gerlach automatically assumed that she’d just caught a flu and went so see her doctor.
When she got to hospital, Gerlach was reassured by the doctor that she was simply suffering from a pinched nerve. As a result, he told her to go home and rest. But that night, when the mom woke to feed Casey, she collapsed.
Consequently, the next thing that Gerlach knew she was waking up in the ICU at Grey Nuns Community Hospital. Doctors had diagnosed her with Guillain-Barre syndrome, and the rare condition had caused Gerlach’s immune system to attack her nervous system.
Doctors weren’t entirely sure what had caused the onset of the young mom’s Guillain-Barre, although they believed that her recent childbirth could have been the trigger. Worryingly, in some cases, the condition can be life-threatening.
Unfortunately, Gerlach was suffering severe case of the condition. “I was in a lot of pain,” she later recalled in an interview printed by the Daily Mail. “I just remember being really scared, and depressed about being away from Casey, who was only 20 days old at the time.”
Often Guillain-Barre can progress to the point where the sufferer is practically paralyzed. And, for Gerlach, this happened so quickly that 72 hours after her first symptoms, she couldn’t move at all. In fact, she couldn’t even breath without a medical apparatus.
Doctors now embarked on a race against time to save her life. They carried out two blood-cleansing treatments on her, one of which nearly claimed her life when a needle ruptured an artery. Luckily, though, Gerlach pulled through, but she remained completely paralyzed for a further six weeks.
While her life hung in the balance, what bothered Gerlach most was missing out on Casey’s formative days. “It was very hard seeing her and not being able to properly cuddle her or talk to her,” she said. “I became extremely depressed. Sometimes I’d rather she didn’t have to see me like this because I couldn’t be the mother she needed me to be.”
Gerlach wanted to get well for her little girl, and luckily the feeling in her fingertips soon returned. From there, the young mom began to recover slowly but surely. Indeed, before long, she had regained the movement in her whole body.
However, Gerlach wasn’t out of the woods yet. She would now need to learn how to breathe again on her own. “At first, I was taken off the ventilator for 30 seconds to try and breathe on my own. It was so difficult, I felt like I’d run a marathon,” she revealed. “Doctors gradually increased the time I was off the ventilator for until my lungs were strong enough.”
Somehow, Gerlach defied all the odds. Four months after she entered hospital, she was finally able to return home to her family. “It was amazing to be back home with Casey. At first, I struggled a little as I was still very weak,” she explained. “I couldn’t lift her up or do a lot around the house. It took some time before I felt normal again.”
But that wasn’t the only struggle for Gerlach. Because she’d been away for so long, Casey wasn’t used to having her mom around. “For a while, I felt like I didn’t really know her or understand why she’d be crying,” Gerlach revealed. “She’d cry for her dad because she was used to being at home with him. It took a good eight months before I really understood her needs.”
Since returning to her regular life, Gerlach has focused on making up for lost time with Casey. She’s also hit the gym to increase her fitness and now feels stronger than ever. Most importantly, though, she’s now an advocate for other people with Guillain-Barre syndrome.
She’s even wrote a book, Happily Ever After, which documents her experience with the syndrome and how she overcame it. Gerlach hopes it will shed a light on Guillain-Barre and raise awareness of the obscure illness.
Through her entire ordeal, Gerlach has shown herself to be a true survivor. “I never thought this would happen to me,” she explained on Facebook. “And when I look back on my time in the hospital, I truly believed that my life was over. But with a lot of hope, courage, and determination, I was able to get my life back.”