Our daughter, our sister, our grand-daughter, our niece, our cousin succumbed to Guillain-Barré Syndrome on April 19, 2016. Jaskiran known fondly as Jas among her friends and Kim among her family, had a passion and desire to become a dentist. Since the age of 12, she didn’t waver from this career choice.
My name is Kulraj, I am her father but I am writing this on behalf of everyone that loved her. Her mother & sisters that love her so dearly, her grand-parents, aunts, uncles and cousins on both sides of the Atlantic. And of course her friends that still hold her closely in their hearts.
After completing a Health Sciences degree at Simon Fraser University and while working at South Surrey Smiles and H&M, Kim started applying to dental schools in Canada and the USA. In the spring of 2014, at the insistence of her aunt in England whose eldest son was studying dentistry in Hungary, Kim added the University of Debrecen to the list of institutions that she was applying to.
The University of Debrecen accepted her as a student in mid August 2014 and the North American university application decisions weren’t due until February the following year. When presented with the choice of something real or something possible, we chose something real. Two weeks later Kim left for Hungary to study dentistry.
We sorely missed having Kim around and took solace knowing that she was following her dreams. The University of Debrecen has examination periods not examination dates, each exam is oral and scheduled one on one with a professor. Quite intense! Thankfully, she was able to schedule and pass her first semester exams and was able to come home for Christmas. She was here long enough to work a few weeks at H&M during her break. Her second semester passed just as rapidly and the examinations were equally daunting. Students in later years gave warnings about the first semester of the second year being the hardest, and that was yet to come.
In August 2015 we went to my nieces wedding in England. Kim insisted that we take a short road trip through Europe after the wedding. She even planned the whole trip. Our adventure totaled about 1800km’s and the major cities we visited included Budapest, Bratislava, Vienna and of course Debrecen, where we left her and returned to Canada. Little did we know at that time that this would be our fourth and last crazy road trip as a family.
The end of the first semester of the second year proved to be as challenging as the ominous warnings predicted, and she had to resit one exam three times. Consequently, she didn’t come home for Christmas, but there was a welcoming home in Hounslow, England where she spent a few days rather than being bored and alone in Debrecen which becomes a ghost town without the student population.
Kim came home for a few days in early February, and on Saturday February 13th, all five of us went for breakfast at iHOP before taking her to Vancouver Airport to begin her journey back to Debrecen. She was delighted that a fellow student from Brampton, Ontario was also flying Lufthansa and they were by pure coincidence scheduled on the same connecting flight from Frankfurt to Budapest.
We didn’t know at the time, but February 13th was our final farewell. A couple of months later, we knew she had a week long break from classes at University. We followed her escapades on SnapChat. She went with her friends to Budapest, stopped at a winery on the way and they shopped at Ikea for new bed sheets and quilt covers.
On April 19th, one phone call shattered our world. Amy was working downtown that day and Sim was home. Rani and I were together when her phone rang. I knew from the ring tone that it was a call from England. Rani screamed and collapsed to the floor; I assumed bad news about her mother. She thrust the phone into my hands and said “talk to them, I don’t understand what they are saying.” She was in denial, which mother wouldn’t be.
It was our brother-in-law on the phone, the father of Kim’s cousin also studying at the University of Debrecen. He repeated that Kim was found unresponsive, alone in her bedroom and that he along with Rani’s sister will be on the next flight to Hungary.
What ensued is a bit of a blur, but family and friends rallied around us and supported us. All four of us were booked to fly to Hungary. Rani and I flew out the same day, Sim and Amy followed a day later along with four of their cousins. Once we were in Hungary we slowly started to piece together what happened.
University of Debrecen
Black Flag Memorial for Kim
Their classes resumed on Monday April 18th after a one week break. Kim had gone to Budapest with her roommate and her friend from Brampton. We now know that she was fine that weekend. She complained of severe lower back pain and was vomiting on Monday morning.
Despite arrival of spring with clear skies and warm days, Kim also complained of feeling chilly on Monday. Many of her fellow classmates commented that she was wearing two lab coats when leaving a lab class on Monday afternoon. The second lab coat was from her roommate who took her home to rest. This is when Kim first mentioned that she had an odd tingling feeling in her finger tips, we were told that this was at about 2pm on Monday afternoon. They speculated this was a residual feeling from using dental drills that afternoon.
Kim didn’t eat on Monday, she had bought a Subway sandwich but eaten only one bite and even that didn’t stay down. She remained in bed for the rest of the day.
On Tuesday morning, Kim tried to eat but again vomited after one bite. Kim’s roommate didn’t go to classes because her sister was coming to visit from England. Kim didn’t go to class either and she continued to feel poorly but at that stage didn’t realize the gravity of her situation. In the early afternoon when Kim’s roommate was scheduled to leave to go pickup her sister from the airport, she told Kim she would change her plans. She would pickup her sister from Debrecen airport and cancel the shopping trip that they had planned in Budapest. Kim insisted that she would be fine and this was probably only a stomach flu and it will pass.
Before leaving she made sure Kim was comfortable. She went out and bought two bottles of Gatorade and left them on Kim’s bedside table along with a Brita jug of filtered water and a large bowl (in case Kim felt nauseous). We are not sure exactly what time she left but we know for sure that by 2pm, Kim was home alone in bed with her laptop by her side. The remaining events that day are recorded in a Facebook messenger chat, so we have some time stamps to confirm the timeline of what transpired. The Facebook chat was in a three way group with Kim’s roommate and her friend from Brampton. Her roommate was driving and didn’t enter the conversation till later.
The first time stamp was 4:11pm, when Kim sent a few desperate messages in quick succession. Her rapidly degrading condition is evidenced by the typing errors:
“my whole body is numb”
“i can bsrey type”
“gake me to tghe doc”
“I cznt ealk”
Kim’s messages were inter-spaced with messages from her Brampton friend, these were messages of concern but not urgency. Indeed she concluded by saying, “msg me when you can so I can come.” Despite Kim having said that she could barely type and couldn’t walk, (or maybe she meant “talk”).
The next time stamp is 5:54pm when Kim’s roommate reaches her destination and asked if they had sought medical attention. When finding out that the other friend was still waiting, Kim’s roommate tried to phone. When she got no reply on the phone she asked their friend from Brampton to, and I quote, “go knock on her door.” This was time stamped at 6:16pm. Despite Kim’s roommate’s urgent tone, the response received was, “okay ill go in 20min.”
Shortly after 7pm, after calling the building owner to bring a spare key, paramedics were called. They left within minutes of arrival and called the coroner.
Kim was found on the floor, face down perpendicular to her bed. We suspect she had tried to reach for her phone which was in her purse on a chair on the other side of her bedside table. Her legs by then must have been fully paralyzed and unable to support her. Kim was 26 years old at the time.
Guillain-Barré Syndrome doesn’t affect the central nervous system, which means that even after collapse she was fully aware of her situation. She was definitely in pain and I can only imagine how scared she must have been.
Knowing that she was alone, scared and in pain constantly compounds our grief. This is a tragedy that no one else should have to experience. That is what motivates us to create awareness of Guillain-Barré Syndrome. So people can understand that a collection of symptoms that may seem unrelated and non-specific can indeed be life threatening and they should seek medical attention. Kim’s life was cut short in part due to a lack of knowledge about Guillain-Barré Syndrome, we want to ensure that no other family suffers a loss like ours.