On Halloween, 2016 Ryan Schnell (age 38) was feeling under the weather and told his wife Michelle that he had a headache and blurred vision in his right eye. He wasn’t concerned because he thought he was just coming down with a cold. On November 2nd during bowling league Ryan noticed weakness on the right side of his body. His symptoms from Halloween were progressively getting worse (headache, blurred vision and nausea). On November 3rd he visited his endocrinologist for follow-up blood tests from a previous appointment. At that time an MRI appointment was scheduled for November 14th. On Friday November 4th Ryan’s symptoms continued to worsen, so two co-workers needed to bring him home from work. On Saturday November 5th Ryan was brought to the Emergency clinic at Regions Hospital in St Paul, MN for evaluation of his steadily worsening condition. At this point Ryan was vomiting, having trouble walking, his vision was blurry, and his headache was excruciating. Digital imaging through both a CAT scan and MRI revealed that Ryan had two masses in his brain. One 3 centimeter (quarter size) mass was located on his brain stem, pressing on his pituitary gland. The second 3 X 4 centimeter (golf ball size) mass was located slightly above the first mass in the cerebellum area of his brain. Ryan was given medication to help alleviate the pain until he could see a neurosurgeon about possible surgery. On November 11th Ryan met with neurosurgeon Dr. Jon McIver, who felt that surgery, although risky, was needed to remove as much of the two masses as possible to relieve pressure on the brain and give access to tissue for a biopsy. On November 16th a surgical resection revealed that the two masses were connected and the surgeon was able to remove almost 90% of the masses. On November 21st Ryan was informed that his mass is a high a grade cancerous glioma tumor and on November 25th Ryan learned that his tumor is a glioblastoma multiforme, an aggressive type of brain cancer. Ryan has been informed that he will receive radiation and chemotherapy simultaneously starting in a few weeks (anticipating mid-December), after his body has had time to heal from his surgery and he has regained some of his motor functions. At this time the neuro-oncologist is waiting on molecular test results from the lab to determine the best type of radiation treatment to use. Ryan’s family is hopeful that he can be discharged from Regions hospital in the next week to recuperate at home and spend time with his 5 yr old daughter Chloe and loving wife Michelle, who is expecting a second baby in February, 2017.
Ryan’s tumor story began in early 1983 when he was 4 years old. His family noticed he was having difficulty walking, was very fatigued, and was not his usual happy self. A referral to a neurologist and a CAT scan revealed that he had hydrocephalus (a buildup of fluid in the ventricles of his brain), and a ventricular peritoneal shunt was installed in February of 1983. At this time the cause of the hydrocephalus was unknown.
In late May of 1986 Ryan was hospitalized because of dehydration and extreme fatigue. He had an intense thirst and could not stay hydrated even after drinking large amounts of fluids. After further testing and a referral to an endocrinologist, he was diagnosed with Diabetes Insipidus (The inability to make the hormone that regulates how the body handles fluids, NOT related to sugar diabetes), and Hypothyroidism (His thyroid gland does not produce enough thyroid hormone). He was given several medications to alleviate his symptoms which he continues to take to this day.
In July of 1986 a newly available MRI technology revealed the cause of Ryan’s issues to be a small, pea sized mass on his brain stem next to his pituitary gland. The mass was blocking the flow of cerebral spinal fluid, which caused the hydrocephalus (water on the brain). The mass was also pressing on his pituitary gland and disrupting normal thyroid functioning. After many consultations, specialists determined that a biopsy of the mass could not be taken safely because of its delicate location in the brain. Ryan had annual MRI scans in St Paul, MN to monitor the mass as well as semi-annual check-ups with an endocrinologist at Children’s Hospital in St Paul, MN until the age of twelve. At age twelve there had been no change in the mass so his neurologist advised that further MRI’s would not be necessary unless his symptoms worsened; however Ryan continued to see his endocrinologist semi-annually. It was not until 2005 that Ryan needed the first revision to his shunt, and he had another revision in 2012. At this time the MRI did not show any growth in the mass in his brain.
Thankfully, Ryan was able to lead the life of a normal teenager. He was advised to refrain from high contact physical activities that could damage his shunt, although he did participate in basketball and baseball. In his senior year of high school he begged his doctor to allow him to participate in his favorite sport, football, and he earned a spot on the Clayton high school football team as a punter. Ryan was also very active in band and choir, and graduated from high school in 1996. He went on to graduate from WITC-New Richmond from the automated packaging program. During high school and college Ryan worked at Dicks Fresh Market in Amery, WI, and continued working there part time while also working full time in manufacturing. Ryan enjoyed working with the team at Dicks, and was thrilled when he was offered a full-time position there. Ryan married Michelle Baldwin in June, 2004 and they live in rural Clayton, WI. In 2011 they welcomed their daughter Chloe (now a 5 year old kindergartner), and they are expecting another baby in February of 2017.
Ryan’s family and friends have expressed an abundance of love and support and Ryan and Michelle are very grateful for all of the prayers, well wishes and help during these challenging times. Over the past 32 years Ryan has spoken highly of his employer and co-workers at Dick’s Fresh Market as they have always been very supportive of Ryan and his family through difficult times. Michelle’s employer and coworkers at Cardinal Glass have been extremely supportive as well, and the family is very grateful for all of their help and genuine concern. Please continue to keep Ryan and his family in your thoughts and prayers.