There are streaks of chocolate smeared on the side of Michele Schuster's zebra-striped shirt, but she doesn't seem to notice.
She was up until 5 a.m. making buckeyes, pumpkin rolls and creampuffs for a bake sale on Saturday. It takes all her energy to recount the 2 1/2 year history of husband John Schuster's medical conditions and the lengths they've gone to find answers.
John's cerebrospinal fluid leak has drained their finances and caused him to lose his health insurance, and they still have a long way to go -- to North Carolina or California -- to find a cure.
John, who operated heavy equipment on construction sites, has suffered from lower back pain for years and went for epidural steroid injections several times. The injections into the spinal cord between vertebrae helped.
But in March 2007, this minor procedure led to a cascade of major health problems.
John saw a new doctor for the injection. He said he immediately felt uneasy when he walked into the room and didn't see the fluoroscopic X-ray equipment typically used to guide the needle.
The needle punctured John's dura mater, the membrane that keeps in cerebrospinal fluid, which cushions the brain in the skull.
The effects were immediate.
"I could feel it, the pressure where it gave me the leak," John said. "I could hear my brain just cooking. I was so hot I had beads of water -- sweat -- rolling off of me."
John was treated with a blood patch and sent home, but the problems continued. He had splitting headaches and lacked energy. His weight dropped from 155 pounds to 130.
The Schusters suspected that the leak was still a problem, but doctor after doctor suggested other conditions such as depression or meningitis. None of the treatments helped.
One doctor finally confirmed their suspicion in July, Michele said, but he didn't know what to do about it. They've found the names of specialists in North Carolina and California who may be able to help.
In the meantime, John's condition only became worse. Early this year he passed out in the shower, and he's had other fainting spells.
"Luckily every other time than the shower there's been somebody there to catch him," Michele said. "He would just always think that he would go out and not come back at all."
The cerebrospinal fluid leak led to autonomic nervous system dysfunction, which means John's brain can't effectively regulate blood pressure, body temperature and heart rate.
Michele estimated he has only been able to work about 40 weeks in the last three years, and not at all since last year. His insurance lapsed in August.
"We've sold everything that we have to sustain us to this point," Michele said, such as her car and John's gun collection.
Michele said she hopes everyone will insist on an X-ray guided needle for epidural injections.
"If we can save one person from going through what we've been through with this -- it very easily can be prevented," she said.
Benefits for John Schuster
3-7 p.m. today (Saturday, Oct. 24)
North Pointe Baptist Church
2611 Campbell St., Sandusky
$10 for dinner
1-4 p.m. Nov. 22
2902 Cleveland Road West, Huron
$5 for dinner
Call 419-433-0712 for information