Former Culverite’s battle for life reignited, 25 years later

Many in Culver will remember Christian Snyder’s battle with cancer as a teen. Many likely are not aware, however, that the raditation treatment which saved his life then is now threatening his life. At just 13, Chris was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor.

"We were told to be happy for every day he was with us," recalls mom Darlene. "Churches all over the U.S. and the Plymouth area were praying for him."

Chris' late father Jay was a 1957 graduate of Culver High School, and was the son of Lester and Carol Snyder. Lester operated Snyder motors at two different locations on Jefferson Street in Culver. Jay started his own Snyder Motors and Towing Service, Inc., in Culver and later Plymouth. He married Darlene Christiensen in 1964 (she would become a familiar face at the State Exchange Bank), and the family moved to Plymouth in 1977. Jay sold his auto business in 1986 and opened the Bargain Barn on Michigan Road, which today is still run by Jay's son Mark and wife Darlene. 1986 was also the year of Chris’ diagnosis.

The grim outlook took a gradual turn for the better as Chris began receiving treatments from a $1 million microtron radiation machine in Indianapolis, one of only two such machines in the country at the time, according to Darlene. The machine's presence in Indiana had been made possible through funds contributed by the state's Lions Clubs, including the Plymouth club, to whom the Snyder family expressed heart-felt thanks as Chris' prognosis improved. By October of his freshman year at Plymouth High School, Chris Snyder was given a clean bill of health, to his and his family's joy and amazement.

"He wasn't supposed to live," says his wife, Kris. "He was a miracle."

Kris and Christian, high school sweethearts, dated for 10 years before their September, 1997 marriage. Until his father’s passing in 2002, Chris ran the Bargain Barn six days a week with Jay. Jay just missed the birth of Chris and Kris’ sons: Tyler (born 2003) and Trenton (2006). Darlene, meanwhile, had started a career teaching 4th grade in Plymouth’s school system. In August, 2007, Chris had an unexpected mini-stroke.

"We really didn't have any warning signs," says Kris. A major stroke hit the day before Thanksgiving later that same year, forcing Chris to quit working. Doctors determined the strokes occurred in the same location of Chris' brain as the 1986 tumor. Chris' condition was rare: radiation vacuitis, a result of the radiation given him as a teen causing the current scar tissue and blood vessel collapse in his brain.

By the seventh stroke, last December, says Kris, "We're learning...he's not going to really bounce back."

Prominent symptoms today include weakness in Chris’ left side and short-term memory loss. Therapy at the Catherine Kasper Home in Donaldson is helping the 39-year-old’s strength, but progress is slow. Complicating matters were non-cancerous tumors discovered in the front portion of his brain, which had to be removed surgically in January, says Darlene.

Chris could have a major stroke, his wife explains, and pass away at any time. Three years ago, however, the family was given no hope, and yet Chris prevailed and even made it home again for a time.

"His spirits are very good," she says. "I'm really proud of him. He's never once said, 'Why me?' He keeps saying he's ready to come home, but he knows he's not strong enough yet."

The family is grateful, Kris adds, to Dr. Todd Stillson in Plymouth, who she says has "always taken great care of Christian. He's been right there every step of the way."

Stillson pointed them to Dr. Walter Langheinrich in South Bend, who removed Chris' tumors last month.

The Snyders' youngsters, Kris says, are doing "fairly well.”

"They're excellent,” she adds. “They say, 'Can we go see Dad?’ They've always been good to Dad."

For her part, Kris copes through prayer and maintenance of what she says is a naturally positive attitude. She's also grateful to Chris' mother and brother for their help, calling them her "backbone."

And, as Chris' family faces the challenges of the present, Kris Snyder says they wouldn't change the way his illness was handled in the past.

"The radiation saved (Chris') life at the time. We would do it all over again. He's had all these years since."

She encourages friends and well-wishers to drop Chris a line addressed to him but care of The Catherine Kasper Home, P.O. Box 1, Donaldson, IN 46513. His family also welcomes continuing thoughts and prayers.
As might be expected, medical costs for Chris are mounting. With that in mind, family friend Kim Morrison, music teacher at Culver Elementary School, is encouraging input from those wishing to contribute. She may be reached at the school at 574-842-3389 or at Morrison notes that part of the proceeds from next month's "Soup for the Soul" 6th grade community fund-raiser will go to Chris and his family. (Editing assistance/Rachel Meade)