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Ben Yelkin

Ben Yelkin crosses the finish line at the Good Life Halfsy half-marathon on Sunday. It was almost two years ago when Yelkin was paralyzed by Guillan-Barre syndrome, a rare immune system disorder that attacks the nervous system.

MATT MASIN / Lincoln Journal Star

Coming up over the bridge past Pinnacle Bank Arena and sprinting toward raucous clanging of cowbells, his screaming wife and 3-year-old son, Ben Yelkin was far from that hospital bed in January of 2013.

The bed he laid in, paralyzed head to toe, unable to hold his son, hardly able to breathe on his own. From the bed he told his wife to help him make a list.

“Put socks on by myself,” was the first thing on that list.

“Get out of bed by myself,” was next.

Almost two years later and 100 yards from the finish line of the Good Life Halfsy, the 37-year-old Yelkin was about to cross the final wish off that list on Sunday.

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After going for a run on Dec. 12, 2012, Yelkin’s toes began tingling. He and his wife went to the emergency room and doctors told him not to worry -- it was nothing.

A day later he could barely walk down the stairs.

The Yelkins went back to the ER, this time demanding to see a neurologist. Yelkin was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome.

“Within seven days,” Yelkin, of Lincoln, said, “I went from completely normal and healthy to being unable to walk.”

GBS is a rare condition in which the body’s immune system suddenly attacks nerves, sometimes causing paralysis for weeks. The cause is unknown, and sometimes the recovery period can last for years.

The disease spread quickly through Yelkin's body. The day after Christmas, he was put in a medically induced coma, breathing by a ventilator for three days.

He awoke unable to feel his face. That’s when he made the list.

“I’m very competitive and I like to push myself,” Yelkin said. “So the list was just motivation.”

Yelkin was fortunate; each day, he began to gain a little feeling back. He began rehab at Bryan Health Inpatient Rehab, and by March 2013, he could move his hands again.

He was discharged from the hospital. Yelkin and his family moved into an apartment after selling their house. Yelkin was using a motorized wheelchair.

In the summer of 2013 he began progressing from wheelchair to walker to cane, and by July, just before his son’s second birthday, he was walking again on his own.

In October, he checked off “run for exercise.”

“It was about a mile,” Yelkin said. “And it was slow. But, it was just awesome to be able to run again. And I still wanted to do more. And I wanted to get better.”

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Yelkin crossed the finish line on Sunday in 1 hour, 50 minutes, 45.8 seconds with a smile on his face, hitting his goal almost right on the money.

“I felt great out there,” Yelkin said after the race, eating a banana and snapping pictures with his family.

In April, Yelkin’s friends put on a 5K to raise awareness for Guillain-Barre syndrome. Yeklin ran that race and is now the director of the annual Running Down GBS 5K.

So what’s next? Another half-marathon? Maybe a full one?

“Relaxing,” Yelkin said. “Just spending time with family. It’s winter, right? Time to just relax.”

Reach the writer at 402-473-7223 or cheady@journalstar.com.

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