Veteran and family man navigates a new normal after unexpected paralysis

Even though Jessie continues to recover and use his legs again, he’s still the same man with an inherent interest to serve others.
After a sudden paralysis in his legs and lower body, life for a St James man took a sudden turn. But his friends rallied and his family never left his side.
Published: Feb. 13, 2023 at 7:22 PM CST
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MANKATO, Minn. (KEYC) - St James resident Jessie Garza, 34, shows his love through acts of service.

For his country, Jessie served in the Army National Guard in Iraq and Kuwait for 13 years.

For his wife and six kids, Jessie is the family’s main provider.

“Jesse is a very like hands-on dad,” said Jessie’s wife Elizabeth (”Liz”) Garza. “He’d work many hours, he’d come home, and be like, ‘what can I do?’”

For Jessie, family comes first.

“I think family is very important,” said Jessie. “I like to instill that and my kids that you know keep each other around. Because that’s your biggest support system.”

However, life suddenly turned upside down when Jessie realized he couldn’t move his legs anymore.

“I woke up fine, and then, you know 12 hours later, I just I couldn’t walk anymore,” Jessie explained.

What began as soreness in his legs quickly turned to poking, burning, and stinging pain along his entire lower body.

Soon, Jessie was paralyzed and could no longer walk.

“Physically, I just could not support my own weight anymore,” said Jessie. “You know, at that point, I thought life was over. What I was going to do anymore, how I was going to take care of my family or anything.”

Assuming the worst, Jessie went from hospitals in St James and Mankato for new treatments and diagnoses.

Jessie expressed apprehension, guilt and fear about his family’s long road ahead, after his paralysis.

“That was all pretty hard on them, to see me like that,” Jessie reflected. “And I was more worried about them: how they would react and how their life would be for them.”

For Liz, it’s the little things that she took for granted that she misses.

“The one thing I thought about the whole time in the hospital is things you didn’t think were important,” Liz added. “Like, taking a walk in the summertime with him out of the farm or even him getting dressed for work. I don’t know, I took a lot for granted.”

After a lack of developments, Jessie was transferred by ambulance to build a new life in a Rochester hospital.

His family didn’t hesitate to follow and build a new life with him.

That’s when friends and family stepped in to help-

A GoFundMe page raised thousands in donations for medical expenses and Jessie’s military friends visited and housed his family in the Rochester area.

“They have really been a big support system for us,” Jessie said.

Finally, doctors found a diagnosis: Para infectious myelitis.. an inflammation of the spinal cord that came after Jessie caught the flu.

Three weeks of physical therapy and plasma exchange treatments followed.

Jessie says he still remembers taking his first steps after a full month:

“I took three or four steps, and it made me feel like maybe there is chance for recovery and life to get back to normal at some point,” Jessie said.

Jessie and his family returned to their farm in St James on Jan. 27.

He’s been home for a few weeks, grasping at ways to give his family a new “normal” life.

“It’s difficult to want to have your old life back but knowing that you physically can’t do it,” Jessie lamented. “You know, you’re not physically capable. It’s really hard, mentally.”

Jessie and his doctors hope he can make a full recovery with the next six months to one year.

Even though Jessie continues to recover and use his legs again, he’s still the same man with an inherent interest to serve others.

“Even now, he still does a lot,” Liz said. “He probably shouldn’t be, but we’re attached at the hip.”

A benefit for the Garza family will be held at the Elysian American Legion on Saturday, Feb. 19, at 9 a.m.

Anyone is welcome to come for an omelet bar, at the price of $10, in honor of Jessie.