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Easton man feels fortunate to be alive

Sheldon Goodrich nearly died before diagnoses of spinal stenosis

By Kevin Mertens - Staff Writer | Dec 20, 2020

Sheldon and Sharla Goodrich gathered for a family picture prior to the birth of their latest grandchild. Standing, left to right, are the adults: their son-in-law Kevin, daughter Brittany, son Dylan, daughter-in-law Kaitlyn, who is holding their grandchild Brooks, Sheldon, Sharla, daughter Danielle and son-in-law Lewis. The three grandchildren standing in front are, left to right: Charlie, Jada and James.

While the Christmas celebration is traditionally a special time for families, this year’s celebration will hold a special meaning for married couple Sheldon and Sharla Goodrich and their loved ones – because Sheldon is feeling fortunate just to be alive.

Sheldon, a farmer who lives south of Easton, almost became a victim of COVID-19, but not because he had the disease.

“He began having neck and back pain back in January,” Sharla says. “But Sheldon kept on going and was even able to help out at the beginning of the spring planting season.”

But things started getting worse.

“I was helping one of the guys put a truck tire in the back of a pickup and I could not do it,” Sheldon says. “I had no strength.”

Other problems began to show up.

“He fell backwards climbing into a tractor and also had some other falls,” Sharla shares.

Before long he was in a wheel chair.

“He had no feeling left in his arms, hands, shoulders and he could not walk because of the pain,” Sharla says. “He had no balance.”

By the time Sheldon’s condition had gotten real bad, COVID-19 had arrived and the hospitals had, for the most part, stopped seeing non-COVID related patients.

“The doctor he saw in Blue Earth was wonderful,” Sharla comments. “The tests he needed were all done. The problem was trying to find a specialist who would see him. I found a doctor from a larger city who did a Google Meet with him. But after the appointment the doctor said nothing could be done now because of COVID.”

She continued to call doctors from many different clinics located around Minnesota and Iowa.

“I was not having any luck,” she says. “Finally, after begging and crying, a person from Rochester told me to send Sheldon’s CAT scan to them. However, they said they would make no guarantees.”

Sharla says she was getting desperate.

“He was going downhill fast,” she remarks. “I took him back to the emergency room in Blue Earth and Dr. Johnson told me to get him to Rochester immediately. He said I should drive him myself because it would be quicker than an ambulance.”

It proved to be an unsatisfactory experience.

“Once again they sent us home again because of COVID,” she shares.

Finally, the couple received a phone call.

“Someone looked at his CAT scan and said they would see him in Rochester,” Sharla explains. “Finally, things were moving forward.”

Soon they would learn Sheldon was suffering from severe spinal stenosis, which is a narrowing of the spinal canal.

Spinal stenosis can put pressure on the spinal cord and the nerves within the spine. It commonly occurs in the neck and lower back, according to the Mayo Clinic website.

“We had been afraid it might be ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) or multiple sclerosis,” Sheldon says. “I had a grandmother who died of ALS and knew that diagnosis would have been a death sentence.”

Surgery to remove bone around the affected nerves was scheduled for June 2.

“He had the surgery and stayed in Rochester for two weeks for physical therapy,” Sharla comments. “He continued his physical therapy at United Hospital District in Blue Earth once we got home.”

There were some immediate positives following Sheldon’s surgery.

“The pain in his back was gone right away,” Sharla says. “But he still does not have feeling below his elbows.”

Sheldon says he has basically had to learn to walk and do many other simple tasks again, and there are times he just has to laugh at things.

“We were coming home from Rochester and I asked Sharla for a bottle of water,” Sheldon shares. “Because I do not have feeling in my hands I did not realize how hard I was gripping it and the bottle exploded and we got an unexpected bath.”

He went on to explain what he has to do to be able to drive the farm’s semi trucks.

“I have to look at my hand on the shifter while I shift to see what to do because I cannot feel it,” Sheldon notes. “Simple things like making sure I do not smash my fingers in doors are something I have to mentally be aware of.”

He also has to be careful holding his young grandchildren.

“He cannot pick up the kids with his hands,” Sharla comments. “But if they lay in his upper arms where he has feeling, then he is fine.”

They do not know how much more, if any, of his feeling will return.

“We were just back to visit the doctor in Rochester in late November,” Sharla says. “He was amazed Sheldon was not in a wheel chair.”

The doctor also explained in more detail what had happened with Sheldon.

“He said everything above the neck controls everything below the neck,” Sharla explains. “He figured Sheldon would not have made it more than two or three more weeks if he would not have had the surgery because his body would have stopped receiving the signal to breathe and carry out other bodily functions.”

The couple still cannot believe how fast things progressed. They also know Sheldon will eventually have to have the same surgery performed on his lower back.

Yet, being able to celebrate another Christmas with each other, and their family members, is a gift they will never forget and Sheldon says he will be forever grateful to Sharla.

“She got me through this and helped me when I was helpless. She kept pushing until she found someone who would help me,” Sheldon says. “It was a pretty humbling experience and I count myself very blessed just to be here.”