In 2001, Michael Echanove faced a life-altering challenge when Guillain-Barre syndrome entered his world. It was a formidable adversary, but Michael's spirit remained unbroken. Having made a seemingly full recovery, Michael began to live his life again. An avid runner, in 2021 he ran over 806 miles. In 2022, he didn’t even walk 806 steps. Guillain-Barre syndrome didn’t stop Michael in 2001, and its return is not stopping him now. “A life-changing event happened twice,” says Michael. A constant through his journey with a rare condition? Ed Robertson, Physical Therapist at Pullman Regional Hospital’s Summit Therapy & Health Services.
Through all these ups and downs, one unwavering presence in Michael's journey was Ed Robertson, dedicated Physical Therapist at Pullman Regional Hospital's Summit Therapy & Health Services. Together, they defied the odds and proved that resilience and determination can conquer even the most formidable challenges.
The story starts in 2001 when Michael accompanied a group of Boy Scouts camping in New Mexico. Upon his return, he developed Giardia. He was transported to UW Medical Center for treatment, ultimately resulting in a diagnosis of Guillain-Barre syndrome and partial paralysis. Guillain-Barre syndrome is a rare condition in which the body’s immune system attacks the nerves, often resulting in paralysis.
During this time, Michael was running for Mayor of Palouse, WA. “We had the hospital notary coming to my hospital room so I could file my paperwork to run,” said Michael as he reflected on this chaotic time of his life.
Once discharged from UW Medical Center, Michael began intensive rehab work at Summit Therapy & Health Services with Physical Therapist Ed Robertson. When Michael arrived at Summit, he wasn’t walking; through months of physical therapy, Ed helped him walk again. “Ed’s bright personality and jokes really lightened the mood,” says Michael. “I fed off of his energy.”
Michael had made a seemingly full recovery- he was walking, running, and working again. Then, in the spring of 2022, Michael’s Guillain-Barre returned. “For about a week I was feeling unwell and symptoms slowly started to emerge. Then, I was sitting in a chair and suddenly fell out of it,” he said. “I couldn’t walk- EMTs came to pick me up.” Michael was transported to Spokane via Life Flight for treatment.
Michael was in a semi-unaware, unresponsive state for 3 months. “The only thing I could move were my eyeballs,” he said. Michael’s wife of 44 years, Paula, has been at Michael’s side through both bouts of illness- driving over 750 miles a week to visit him during his stays in Spokane and Coeur d’Alene care facilities. When he began to regain awareness, Paula brought a poster board with the alphabet on it, and they communicated solely through Paula pointing at letters and Michael blinking.
After months of intensive rehabilitation in Coeur d’Alene, Paula brought Michael back home to Palouse, WA. He could only move one leg, one arm, and had no core strength. Michael returned to Summit Therapy & Health Services, where Ed Robertson again took over his physical therapy plan.
“We replicated Summit Therapy equipment at home- sourcing equipment and building what we could,” says Paula. Slowly, the number of physical and occupational therapy appointments on the calendar scaled back as Michael made progress with each visit to Summit Therapy.
Michael recalls his progress and remembers how Ed physically pulled him out of his wheelchair last winter. He remembers every milestone he and Ed met together for Michael to walk today and the trust and friendship they have developed through the years.
“Michael’s diagnosis is pretty rare, and he’s sort of a once-in-a-career kind of patient for me; I got to help him recover twice, 22 years apart. That’s incredibly rare. He’s the kind of a person that when he leaves the clinic, I feel like I got more out of it than he did,” says Ed Robertson. “The other key thing about working with Michael is Paula. Their relationship, and her supporting Michael throughout his recovery, is nothing short of admirable. At times, the dynamic between them is pure entertainment.”
Additional members of Michael’s care team, Collette Edge and Chelsea Shors, Occupational Therapists at Summit Therapy, work with Michael on his dexterity and coordination, helping him regain his ability to do everyday tasks.
As of today, Michael can navigate around on his own, with the support of a walker. “We’re so incredibly thankful for Summit Therapy and the care Ed, Chelsea, and Collette have provided,” says Paula. “Ed always jokes with me that we’re ‘more better’ than the last time I saw him,” smiles Michael. “That’s our thing.”