Beating the odds, one day at a time

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By Heather Reese

Hard-working, easy going, healthy, and determined and optimistic are just a few words that describe Marc Schmitzer, a guy everyone comes to love. So when his new bride came home on a beautiful day and found him inside the house, watching television, she knew something was off but didn’t quite know what it was. After several long and exhausting months, too many doctors’ appointments and tests to keep track of, Marc finally received a diagnosis that would forever change his life and those around him.


Early September, the couple started noticing behaviors that couldn’t be overlooked. Marc started to lose most of his motivation. He would come home from work and instead of finishing a house project, he would go inside, sit down, and find something on television to watch for the night. When you would have a conversation with him, his words would start blending together or it would take time for him to build his sentences. When he would get out of his seat, he would lose his balance and use the closest object to him to stabilize himself. These are just a few things that Krista was able to pick up on without Marc telling her something was wrong even though Marc had noticed a few things himself. Simple tasks at work were becoming hard for him as well. He could no longer use electric hand tools with ease and there were a couple of times where he would climb a ladder and freeze. One day in particular stands out the most. He knew something was wrong when he was driving home and couldn’t tell if the vehicle coming towards him was on his side of the road, or the other. That evening when Krista returned home from work, Marc broke down and told her that he knew something wasn’t right.


First things first, a doctor’s appointment had to be scheduled. After the first visit, something told the couple that a second opinion was needed. Before they could finish that thought, a trip to the emergency room was in order. First, numerous blood tests were ran and when they came back normal, a CT scan was ordered along with a spinal tap, and when those both came back normal, frustration started to sit in. Then the doctor’s ordered Marc to undergo an MRI Scan on his brain. When the MRI showed some inflammation on the lower left side of the brain, Marc thought he would finally receive some answers. He was sent home with steroids and medicine to see if the inflammation would subside. After continuous sleep for two days, he woke up feeling worse than before and now with a headache. Another trip to the emergency room for the couple. Marc and Krista knew the doctors were doing what they could but the couple still needed answers so they asked for a referral to IU Medical Center in Indianapolis.


As they were waiting for the referral, Marc’s symptoms grew rapidly noticeable. He was noticing more vision problems, memory mishaps, confusion, walking was becoming more difficult, and he became withdrawn from his family and friends. Instead of waiting for that referral, family members took Marc on up to IU where he was admitted immediately. Still not having a diagnosis, more and more tests. A brain biopsy was scheduled and was thankfully cleared. But they still did not have any answers. They weren’t any closer to finding out then when they went to their first appointment a month earlier. A Spectroscopy MRI was now ordered since the previous MRI already showed inflammation, this MRI would give more details. The outcome of this test would shock everyone.


Marc has been diagnosed with PML (Progressive Multi-focal Leukoencephalopathy). PML is a very rare and fatal disease that is mostly found in those with weaken immune systems through the JC Virus. Studies have shown that almost 70% of the population carries this particular virus but no one realizes it since our body’s immune system fights against it. The disease affects numerous areas of the brain such as the cerebellum, and the pons and medulla in the brain stem, which in turn affect one’s speech, motor skills, balance, and personality. There is no other known case such as Marc’s to date. Marc is and has always been healthy. This diagnosis will always be a mystery. However, instead of letting this defeat himself, Marc has chosen to do anything he can do beat it.


After receiving his diagnosis, doctors immediately started treatment. Marc received five days of IVIG Therapy which is Intravenous Immunoglobulin Therapy. For those five days, they would infuse Marc’s body with new antibodies that will help his weakened immune system, fight the infection. He also takes a nightly medication. After one of the longest months of Marc and Krista’s life, they could finally return to Evansville where a week long rehabilitation process would happen. Marc would have to “re-learn” the simple, everyday tasks that we take for granted. After a lot of aggravating and frustrating moments, Marc was finally able to go home.


Thinking into the future, Marc will have to travel to IU Medical once a month to receive ongoing IVIG therapy. He also goes to St. Vincent Hospital twice a week for occupational, speech, and motor skills therapy for three hours at a time. Every day that he is able to complete a new task, is a milestone whether it’s a big or small. Marc and Krista, along with their entire family, also realize that every day is a blessing. Even though Marc never lost sight of his goal of returning home and returning to a semi normal life, he also knows that he could have never came through this without all the prayers, support, and all the help from his family and friends. Even though he was fighting with all that he had, he credits everyone else more than himself. That is the Marc Schmitzer that everyone loves.