Paralyzing disease brings uncertainty for family

Photos by Nic Antaya/The Herald
Jeremy Royer of Celestine lays with his daughter, Maggie Royer, 2, left, while his daughter, Kaylynn Lee, 9, his fiancee Amber Lee and his other daughter, Marley Royer, 4, visit him at The Timbers of Jasper on Aug. 22. Jeremy is paralyzed from the waist down in his left leg. He has suffered from spondylosis, which later morphed into spondylolisthesis, since a young age and he has had issues with his spinal cord, discs and vertebrae. In May of 2017, Jeremy woke up one day and could not move his body from the chest down. He slowly recovered and regained control of his body. In May of 2018, he suffered a similar experience after a fall where he struck his neck, which caused his entire body to be paralyzed. Since then, his body has recovered enough to where only his left leg is paralyzed.


CELESTINE — When Jeremy Royer of Celestine came to, he was completely paralyzed from the chest down.

He vaguely remembered snips from the hours before — wandering around his house disillusioned and confused early one morning before sitting in an upright position on his couch.

Royer, 37, was born with degenerative spondylosis, a disease of the spine that brings with it ailments such as bone spurs and degenerating discs between vertebrae. After he awoke from that nap in May 2017, he sat almost completely immobilized for the first time in his life.

Nearly 16 months later, Royer is still fighting the disease that has repeatedly hindered and stolen his ability to function. He had regained the ability to walk, but he has again lost feeling in his left leg after he fainted from chest pain and hit his neck or head on a kitchen counter in his family’s Celestine home the day after Mother’s Day this year. He was transferred from Deaconess Hospital in Evansville to Memorial Hospital and Health Care Center in Jasper before going to the Timbers of Jasper nursing home in early June.

A close friend of his fiance Amber Lee has since launched a GoFundMe page to help cover the costs of bills and other expenses.

“Your life can change very fast, very quick,” Royer said. “You can have a good job. You can have nice things, make good money and do what you want to do. And you can lose it all very fast.”

Prior to the May 2017 incident, he was working at JSI Furniture in Jasper. Lee, who is also now unemployed, is shouldered with looking after their children and keeping their lives moving forward.

Royer’s mother, Sharlene, first noticed her son had back issues when he was around 3 or 4 years old, but doctors pushed the concerns off saying he was just a baby. Around age 6 or 7, Royer noticed more pain. He was told it was just growing spells and was given corrective shoes.

The whole time, however, it was spondylosis, a disease that can go away with time or stay the same, but in Royer’s case, morphed into Spondylolisthesis, which causes vertebrae to shift or slip out of place. There is no cure, and he has lived in pain caused by the disease for years.

He began undergoing physical therapy and going to a chiropractor in his early teens. Doctors suggested he have surgery when he was 18 years old. He declined, worried about the combination of his young age and the potential risks of a procedure that would have put rods into his spine.

“I was scared, man,” he said. “You can come out paralyzed from any back surgery. No doctor is perfect. You can have a good surgeon, but one slip of a knife can ... (cause) full paralysis.”

Amber rests her hand on Jeremy's leg while visiting him at The Timbers of Jasper on Aug. 22.

Back then, he’d feel fine for a few days or even a month, but then his shooting lower back pain would flare up and he’d be down and couldn’t do anything. When Royer was 25, he couldn’t take the pain anymore and he had his first back surgery — a laminectomy, or removal of the back part of a vertebra that covered his spinal canal. Prior to the procedure, he would often fall over while walking and lose feeling in his legs.

After that, things got better for a few years. He was healthy. He jogged. He hunted. He rode four-wheelers and motorcycles.

“Everything 20-year-olds do,” he said. “Just enjoying life. Traveling, stuff like that.”

But soon after, a botched surgery left him with the wrong electrical nerve stimulator in his back, which damaged his spine. Four weeks later, another doctor cut out part of his vertebra when he replaced the stimulator with another unit, which further compromised Royer’s spine.

Still, the device helped the pain for about a year and a half before it suddenly stopped working. He began experiencing worsening neck pain in April 2017. Then came that horrifying morning in May 2017.

“May 7, I woke up, and I was paralyzed from the chest all the way across (and down),” Royer said.

He could shrug his shoulders and move his neck — where intense pain radiated from —  but that was it.

Doctors told him the aimless wandering around his home he’d done in the hours before was caused by a large amount of pressure on the spinal cord that made him delirious. Despite his family being out of the house, he remembers walking into the kitchen and talking like they were there. He laid back down, and woke up again about an hour later and did the same thing. He got dressed and sat on the couch, and faded out. The next time he woke up, he couldn’t move.

Royer was taken to St. Vincent Evansville, where doctors discovered a severely herniated disk in his neck — the biggest his neurosurgeon had ever seen. It was removed and a cadaver bone and a titanium plate was inserted.

“A lot went through my mind on the way there,” he said. “A lot of things went through my mind. Is this going to be the rest of my life? First thing, I (thought) about the kids and Amber and what they’re going to have to go through because of me.”

He’d seen how accidents can tear apart families. Combined, he and Lee have four children and one that is due in mid-November.

But Royer’s recovery went well, and he was walking again a couple days after surgery — a big surprise to his surgeon. He quickly relearned how to tie knots, button his shirt, put on a watch, write his name, all things that required movement.

Jeremy cradles Maggie, 2 at The Timbers of Jasper on Aug. 22.

Then, more health problems surged. Royer said that with spinal cord damage, the immune system and other bodily processes are greatly compromised. In January of this year he was hospitalized with bronchitis, pneumonia, a lung infection and dangerously high blood pressure — all at one time. Before the diagnosis, he said a pair of doctors told him he was either coming off a cold or had a sinus infection.

He recovered, but was left with intense chest pain that caused him to pass out sporadically. It happened so much that his and Lee’s children were often sent to daycare instead of staying home with him.

One day, he passed out, hit his neck on the counter at home, and again awoke paralyzed. As he came to and was laying on the floor, he regained movement on the right side of his body and called Lee, who called an ambulance. He was shipped to Deaconess Hospital in Evansville for tests, and later went through physical rehabilitation at Memorial Hospital.

As she was following the ambulance, Lee received a devastating Facebook message that she had been terminated from her job at a local care center.

Today, Royer has no feeling in his left leg and he relies on a wheelchair to move around. He arrived at the Timbers of Jasper in early June, where he has lived since.

He is uncertain of what lies ahead, but he doesn’t plan on giving up. He’d like to try stem cell therapy at some point, but can’t plan on that yet because of the cost.

“I could wake up tomorrow and be completely paralyzed,” he said. “That’s what this disease does to you. Or I could wake up tomorrow and I could regain function back in this (left) leg.”

The family has sold valuable belongings to pay the bills and make ends meet and also relies on others to get through payments. Lee hopes to eventually bring Royer home to care for him.

Royer admits he needs financial help. His family needs help. But he’s hopeful everything will work out.

“There’s people that think they have it bad,” Royer said. “Just don’t give up. Things get better. And I always tell myself that, and she (Lee) always reminds me that.”

As of Tuesday evening, the GoFundMe fundraiser had raised $1,780 of its $3,000 goal for Royer. It can be found online at Another fundraiser is in the works for this fall and information will be posted on the GoFundMe page.

Jeremy kisses Kaylynn as she arrives at The Timbers of Jasper on Aug. 22. 

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