Illness Still Takes Its Toll

March 01, 1995|By Ellie Baublitz | Ellie Baublitz,Contributing Writer

The nightmare began the day before Thanksgiving 1993, when Glenn Renfro, 40, suffered a minor seizure while he was repairing a car.

But the busy owner of Renfro's Hilltop Service Station in Manchester ignored his dizziness and the next day left town for a week of hunting.

"The entire time he was hunting, he had these episodes," said his wife, Deborah. "He came home the last day of November and took the kids Christmas shopping and had a small seizure in Wal-Mart. He became disoriented and couldn't find the kids."

Mrs. Renfro knew nothing about the "episodes." At 5 a.m. Dec. 1, she found out about them quickly.

"He starts making this loud noise and he starts having a seizure -- his arms shot up in the air, he started turning gray, then blue, he was bleeding from the mouth and foam started coming out of his mouth," she recalled.

Mr. Renfro spent the next week in Carroll County General Hospital undergoing tests that showed nothing.

Doctors suggested that he should see a neurologist.

For the next nine months, Mr. Renfro was a patient at several area hospitals, undergoing numerous brain and blood tests, surviving a coma and, eventually, undergoing therapy.

At Johns Hopkins Hospital, a neurologist reviewed Mr. Renfro's test results and put him on Dilantin, a drug that is designed to prevent grand mal seizures. In January 1994, he started having more small seizures and was put on another drug, called Depakote.

"By February, he was so sick he couldn't talk and he walked like he was drunk," Mrs. Refro said.

After Mr. Renfro suffered another grand mal seizure, doctors at Carroll County General discovered that his liver enzyme count was severely elevated. This time, Mr. Renfro went to the %J University of Maryland Seizure Center, where doctors told him that his high enzyme count was a side effect of the Depakote.

His doctors tried other drugs to control his seizures, but none of them worked.

Last March, Mr. Renfro went into "status epilectus" -- he began suffering a seizure about every three minutes.

"They [doctors] put him in a coma to stop the brain function and seizures. That . . . saved his life, because otherwise he would have died," Mrs. Renfro said.

Mr. Renfro's doctors brought him out of the induced coma about two weeks later. But his seizures immediately returned, and the doctors said he was suffering from viral encephalitis.

"That's what they say when they can't find anything -- they have to give it a name," Mr. Renfro said. "But it makes sense, because if it was a virus, it will eventually leave the body, and that's what we're seeing."

During these difficult months, Mrs. Renfro and the children -- Tracey, 15, Heather, 10, and Bryant, 8 -- were helped by church, school, family and friends.

Family and friends were praying for Mr. Renfro. A minister laid hands on him while he lay in a coma.

At the end of August, the seizures stopped.

"He hasn't had another one since," Mrs. Renfro said. "There's no doubt in my mind that prayer healed him."

Her husband had "a lot of damage," she said. "His short-term memory was temporarily gone. He couldn't add two and two, and this was a man who ran his own business."

After four months of therapy at a program for brain-injured patients at Sinai Hospital, Mr. Renfro is almost back to normal. Two weeks ago, he returned to running his business. His brother Todd operated the business for him during his illness.

But the nightmare isn't over. The couple has put their five-bedroom house up for sale to help pay Mr. Renfro's $8,800 medical bill, plus business expenses, a medical insurance deductible and personal bills that are overdue.

"He built our house in 1978 with his own hands -- it was his dream house," Mrs. Renfro said. "It breaks his heart to sell it. We're just thankful he's alive and we're together."

When the house is sold, the family plans to move into a three-bedroom apartment over the service station, she said.

For now, Mr. Renfro is happy just being with his family.

"We had a lot of things and now we're losing them, but so be it," he said. "We have the five of us and that's the most important thing."

Area Lutheran churches have taken up the Renfros' cause. The couple has been attending Immanuel Lutheran Church in Manchester, where Pastors Matthew and Norma Schenning are counseling Mr. Renfro during his recovery.

The Frederick and Carroll county branches of the Lutheran Brotherhood have started fund-raisers in his behalf.

The Carroll branch is sponsoring a ham sandwich sale and is taking orders through Sunday. Sandwiches cost $1.75 each and can be ordered through any Lutheran Church in the county. The sandwiches can be picked up after 8 p.m. March 16 at Immanuel Lutheran Church, 3184 Church St. in Manchester.

"We started the fund-raiser, and anything we get up to $1,600 the Lutheran Brotherhood Disaster Relief Funds will match two-for-one," said Doris Dell, treasurer of the Carroll branch.

Anyone wishing to buy a sandwich or help with a financial contribution to the Renfro fund can contact any Lutheran church in the county, Doris Dell at 374-6654 or James Fair at 751-1120.

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