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Billings West's Marcus Drange, Havre's Mary Wagner detail bouts with rare Guillain-Barré syndrome

Posted at 5:33 PM, Dec 28, 2023

BILLINGS — Billings West golf coach Marcus Drange had big plans this past summer to play in several golf tournaments around the state.

He had to withdraw, however, as he checked into the Rehab Hospital of Montana in Billings in early June and was diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome.

“It was harder because I had so many things planned for the summer and I had so many things going on that I realized quickly I wouldn’t be able to accomplish,” Drange said. “I wasn’t going to be able to go and golf, to be able to coach. I wasn’t going to be able to throw the ball around with the kids, or roll on the ground with my kids, and that was tough.”

Guillain-Barré is rare condition that attacks the peripheral central nervous system. It can affect the nerves that control muscle movement, as well as those that transmit pain, temperature and touch sensations. In the case of Drange, he’d lost the ability to walk essentially overnight.

“In the hospital I figured out that I did not know how to describe how to take a step. You learn it when you're not able to communicate very well, and at 1 year old it's easy. You figure it out. You stand up, you fall down, you get up and you keep going," Drange said. "When my PT and OT were asking me, 'Describe how to take a step,' I said, 'You just do it.'"

Drange attacked his rehab and spent just seven days at RHOM, eventually returning to a full-time coaching gig. He’s still trying to get back to the level of one of the state’s best amateur golfers, but just being able to play again has been a blessing.

"I had him actually out on our back green. We were actually chipping balls around, working on some balance stuff," occupational therapist Josh Cederberg said. "He was starting to get back to that functionality level enough where when we discharged him I was comfortable saying, 'Yes, you will be fine going home. I see you returning to golf again and I see you returning to your life in the near future.'"

“I’ve got to get back, and I miss this and I want to do this. Next summer I’m going to dedicate some time. I was signed up for so many events that I had to withdraw from, and I’m ready to basically sign up for all of those again, get in and go and compete and see how it goes. Expectations are probably low, but at the same time, I want to get out and compete,” Drange said. “It’s still humbling about the distance. I lost a ton of distance and my strength was gone, so building that back up is going to be a big focus. … But overall, I can do it. I might not hit it the same, hit it as hard or have the speed I used to have, but I can do it. That’s encouraging to me.”

Drange’s story of success was a motivating factor for RHOM’s most recent Guillain-Barré patient, Mary Wagner of Havre, who’d been an avid runner. Mary went from being completely independent to bedbound within a matter of days in early November, eventually spending nearly four weeks in Billings before being discharged earlier in December.

“On a Wednesday my legs went numb. I had a pain down my spine unlike anything I’d ever felt before. Basically, my husband just drug me around the house from room to room,” Wagner said. “I had heard (Drange’s) story, and that he was back teaching within two or three months.

“I thought, ‘That’s who I’m going to be. I’m going to be just like him.’ Even though he’s probably half my age, I really was thinking about him.”

Wagner and Drange both have had positive recoveries, but with the unknown nature of the path it would take, whether it be weeks, months or even a year, they were fighting the toll it took mentally, too.

“I remember laying in the hospital bed telling the ER doctor, ‘Twelve months? You’re out of your mind. There’s no way this is keeping me down for a year.’ To be back on my feet close to 100% just five, six months after the fact, I feel accomplished in that regard,” Drange said.

“Sometimes I was very happy. My husband got to see me when I was a little bit down, but I have so much in life to look forward to. Seven grandkids, my children and their spouses and potential spouses. When you have a lot to live for, you get through it,” said Wagner.