Frightening medical ordeal a test of strength, faith

Kris Kelbrants and Sherry Shuss (Photo submitted)
Kris Kelbrants and Sherry Shuss (Photo submitted)

Kris Kelbrants’ prognosis was grim.

In 1997, the Apple Valley resident was a recent college graduate beginning a career with a Twin Cities publishing corporation. Then strange symptoms started to surface.

She’d be reading a document at work, and suddenly she wouldn’t be able to comprehend the text. She started having seizures. She lost her appetite.

As her condition worsened, “I resigned from my job, and after that I don’t have a lot of memories,” she said.

Her mom, Sherry Shuss, also of Apple Valley, remembers it all too well. Kelbrants was admitted to the hospital not being able to walk, talk or even recognize her family. Doctors had difficulty making a diagnosis.

“Things progressed worse, worse, worse,” Shuss said. “If there was a test for it, they did it because they didn’t know what they were dealing with.”

After a brain biopsy, Kelbrants was diagnosed with CNS vasculitis, an inflammation of blood vessels in the brain. Doctors informed her parents that there was a chance she might die, but if she didn’t, because of brain damage she’d likely be confined to a nursing home for the rest of her life.

Kelbrants’ ordeal, and her road to recovery, is documented in “Maze of Thorns,” the book she and Shuss co-authored and released earlier this year.

“Our faith, family and friends held strong, and this girl who left the hospital not adding one plus one and not being able to read is here to tell you miracles do happen,” Shuss said. “She’s also a strong willed, I-can-do-it type of person, and I think that’s what allowed her to endure and get better.”

av-maze2-4-28Recovery came bit by bit — learning how to talk again, learning how to eat on her own. On the medical end, Kelbrants was prescribed massive doses of steroids to shrink the swelling in her brain.

She also starting taking French and piano lessons in hopes of stimulating her brain. She took a job at a bread bakery where her primary task was counting change, another way, she hoped, of rebuilding basic cognitive skills.
“It took a good five years to turn everything around and get my career back,” said Kelbrants, who’s now married and works as a sales manager with a Burnsville company.

Twenty years after her harrowing brush with death, Kelbrants said she still isn’t completely recovered and continues to take medication for her condition.

Kelbrants and Shuss met weekly over the course of two years to write “Maze of Thorns.”

“We had a lot of fun and we had a lot of tears,” Shuss said of the writing process. “I had journaled (during Kelbrants’ illness), and we could not have done this had I not journaled, because to this day she has no memory of being in the hospital. I also saved all of the doctor reports and all the cards people sent.”

Kelbrants, a 1989 graduate of Rosemount High School, and Shuss, a retired administrative secretary at Rosemount High School, recently spoke at their church, Hosanna Church in Lakeville, about Kelbrants’ journey through illness and recovery.

Both mother and daughter said faith was key throughout the medical ordeal.

“The book was kind of that final journey for me, realizing at this point in my life I want to help other people — we wanted to multiply hope with our book,” Kelbrants said. “By relying on faith and God, you stop trying and start trusting, and you’re given all the strength you need.”

“Maze of Thorns” is available through online booksellers such as Amazon. More about the book is at