August 27, 2002
Neighbors fight back, recover from rare, paralyzing disorder
By Collin Johnson
Health and Research News Service
BRANDON, Miss.–It all happened so fast for Cynthia Turner.
One morning, she woke up with a tingling feeling in her feet, she recalled. “I thought it was from moving furniture the day before, but it started getting worse, so I made an appointment for the next day with a neurologist.”
She didn’t make it that far.
By that evening, her body was stiffening and when she went to the refrigerator, she fell down. “I had to call my husband to help me,” she said. “I couldn’t move.”
That’s how fast Guillain Barre Syndrome can strike. No one knows why it attacks, but doctors believe the body’s immune system turns on itself and attacks the myelin sheath that surrounds and protects peripheral nerves resulting in paralysis in the legs, arms and even in the muscles that control breathing.
“It’s scary because it can attack anybody and often does its damage very quickly,” said Dr. Art Leis, a neurologist at the Center for Neuroscience and Neurological Recovery at Methodist Rehabilitation Center in Jackson.
Within five days, the illness had reached Turner’s face, robbing her of the ability to speak. Soon after she was placed on a ventilator to help her breathe. After six weeks of intensive care, the worst was behind her and she was transferred to Methodist Rehab to begin a long recovery process.
“There is no cure for Guillain Barre, although some treatments can limit the disease. Proper physical, occupational, respiratory and even speech therapy are essential to increase the chances of a patient regaining full function,” said Dr. Leis.
One day while working through therapy, Turner received a visit from a special guest – an unknown neighbor who had beaten back Guillain Barre himself.
Several years ago, Mark Wootton had been vacationing with his family in Gulf Shores, Ala., when he began to feel ill. “I just felt weak so we went to a little after-hours clinic and then straight from there to the emergency room.”
Like Turner, Wootton was also quickly paralyzed by the illness and had to be placed on a ventilator. Also like Turner, he was transferred to Methodist Rehab to begin his recovery.
“This is where they taught me to walk again,” he recalled.
Years later, Wootton shows few signs of his bout with Guillain Barre. He runs most mornings and is back to being a full-time worker, husband and father. When he heard that another Brandon resident was struggling against Guillain Barre, he wanted to meet her.
For Turner, his visit made a big difference. “Mark was an inspiration,” she said. “I had no idea that he lived just down the street from me. When we talked about what he had been through, it just helped me to know someone else who had been there.”
“After Mark’s visit, her therapy really took off,” said Susan Kimble, Turner’s occupational therapist. In the weeks that followed, Turner impressed her therapists each day with her attitude and quick gains.
Her progress was especially obvious during treadmill gait training. The treadmill—which uses a harness, pulleys and a pneumatic system to support a patient’s weight—helps in several ways. Therapists are able to use the treadmill to train some patients to walk again.
By not having to support Turner’s full weight, the treadmill allowed therapists to induce a stepping motion for her. Treadmill therapy requires trained therapists to work with the patient and continuously monitor their progress. Methodist Rehab is one of only about a dozen hospitals in the country that provides the therapy. CNNR researchers are studying the effectiveness of the new therapy in both spinal cord and brain injured patients.
Besides learning to walk again, Turner, a marriage and family therapist, also had to learn to talk again. “It took a lot of speech therapy and a lot of work, but I’ve gotten better every day I’ve been here,” she said. Just days after her discharge, Turner returned as an outpatient to continue therapy to get stronger and improve her walking ability. Her wheelchair is no longer necessary and she now rarely needs two canes for balance.
On her first night back at her house in four months, Turner curled up on the couch with her son, John-John, who was only 16 months old when she was hospitalized.
“Every time we talked while I was in the hospital, he told me about a new Scooby Doo video he had and wanted me to watch with him and I promised him we’d watch it as soon as I got home.”
She was finally home.
For more information about Methodist Rehab or to learn more about Guillain Barre Syndrome or the Center for Neuroscience and Neurological Recovery, log on to www.methodistonline.org.
Methodist Rehabilitation Center provides comprehensive medical rehabilitation programs for people with spinal cord and brain injuries, stroke and other neurological and orthopedic disorders and treats patients from all of Mississippi’s 82 counties and from other states. The Jackson hospital is one of only 17 in the country designated as a Traumatic Brain Injury Model System by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research.
A team of physician-scientists at the Center for Neuroscience and Neurological Recovery at Methodist Rehab translate basic neuroscience research into useful therapies that benefit patients suffering from neurological illnesses and injuries. By building on the hospital’s reputation and strong commitment to research, this team is able to quickly move research findings from the laboratory to the patient’s bedside, thus bridging the gap between biomedical discoveries and their clinical application.
For more information:
'Inspiration just down the street' for survivor of paralyzing illness | The Clarion-Ledger
Cynthia Turner, of Brandon, uses this treadmill to improve her walking while recovering from Guillain Barre syndrome--a serious disease that attacks the body's nervous system.
Cynthia Turner is visited by her neighbor, Mark Wootton, and his daughter, Hannah. Wootton, who had a remarkable and complete recovery from Guillain Barre syndrome himself, came to see Turner when she was hospitalized to encourage her.