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Seeing Potential - Warren's Recovery from Guillian-Barre Syndrome

On May 15, 2012, before retiring to bed for the evening, Warren Weldon noticed a slight tingle in his right arm which he dismissed. The next morning, he realized something wasn’t right. After getting out of bed, he stumbled and fell—his legs unable to hold him up. His wife, Pauline, and a neighbor helped him out of the house and into the car. Pauline drove frantically to the hospital.

Having been diagnosed with muscular dystrophy 10 years before, Warren’s physician began a battery of tests as the paralysis began to spread throughout his body. After 10 days in the intensive care unit, one of his physicians said the words that would forever become part of Warren’s vocabulary: Guillian Barre´ syndrome.

Guillian Barre´ syndrome is an autoimmune disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks parts of the nervous system. Weakness and tingling are usually the first symptoms which can quickly lead to paralysis.

“I was in terrible pain,” Warren recalled. “Every part of me hurt. There wasn’t anything I could do on my own. I wasn’t able to dress or feed myself because I couldn’t move my arms or legs. It took two to three people just to sit me up and then to hold me in that position. So for the most part, I was just lying in bed, flat on my back. I have to admit, I was really worried about my wife and my kids. I wasn’t sure I was going to make it through this.”

With permission from his doctors, Pauline and Warren’s daughters began exercising his limbs to keep his muscles from getting atrophied. Eventually therapy was prescribed and Warren was assigned a therapist to help him regain some of his strength and movement. “I asked the therapist how many cases of Guillian-Barre´ she had treated,” he explains. “She told me there was only one that she was aware of. That wasn’t very encouraging. I needed to be at a place that was familiar with this disorder and would know how to help me get better.”

As Warren’s daughters began researching rehabilitation facilities, they spent time on Marianjoy’s website, reading some of the first-hand accounts of patients who had been through Marianjoy’s rehabilitation program. One in particular caught his daughters’ attention; a woman recounted how Marianjoy gave her the ability to walk again after experiencing a stroke. Warren’s daughters immediately called to begin the admission process.

Warren admits he was apprehensive. “To be honest, I was depressed and I was scared,” he said tearfully. “I couldn’t believe this had happened to me and I knew I was in bad shape. I wondered if I was going to be able to get better, especially when I still couldn’t do anything for myself. But then I found out that Marianjoy had a lot of experience in treating individuals with Guillian Barre´ so I knew I had to try. It was the first time I ever listened to my kids – and it was probably the best time!”

Warren arrived at Marianjoy on June 28, 2012. He was surprised to find that the very next day he would receive a full schedule of physical, occupational, and speech therapies. “When my therapists asked me what my goals were, I immediately told them I wanted to walk again. Even while living with muscular dystrophy, I was still able to drive, mow the grass, ride my bike, and cook. I wanted to get back to all of those things again. I was still in a lot of pain and the therapists recognized that but continued to push me. Even though I didn’t think I could get better, they had faith that I would. They were incredibly encouraging. That meant a lot to help keep me going.”

In addition to therapy in the gym, Warren’s therapists took him to Marianjoy’s warm water therapy pool. The 95 degree water helped Warren’s muscles relax while he worked on strengthening his core muscles, legs, and arms. Eventually, his therapist would have him simulate walking while in the water to help prepare him for when he would actually attempt to stand and walk in the gym.

One of Warren’s biggest accomplishments in his recovery came one afternoon as he was lying in bed. “Almost without thinking, I rolled myself over on my side,” he recalls, choking up. “That was a ‘wow’ moment for me. I had spent three months staring at the ceiling unable to even do this simple movement on my own. I couldn’t believe it. Now I’m able to roll around like a fish!”

As the days passed, Warren could see that the paralysis was slowly beginning to subside. “My occupational therapist eventually was able to help me start using a spoon and fork again. She and I didn’t always agree on how I should do things, but I listened to her and I respected what she told me. She taught me how to see and do things differently than I had before. I never said ‘no’ to any of my therapists.  I put complete trust in them.

“I remember one time in particular, I was working with one of my physical therapists and he had me doing squats to build up the strength in my legs. I was getting tired and I just wanted to quit. He asked me to do one more set and I replied, ‘I can’t.’ I immediately regretted saying it. I knew he was pushing me for a reason so I quickly said, ‘Never mind’ and continued with another set.”

Several weeks into his inpatient rehabilitation stay, Warren’s therapists felt that he was ready to begin learning to walk again. With the help of several therapists, he stood at the parallel bars for the first time in weeks. “I was scared,” he admits. “I really didn’t think I had it in me but they kept telling me I could do this. At one point I told them that I thought they were more determined to get me walking then I was.” From that point forward, his therapists continued to push Warren to walk. Today, with the assistance of a walker and with a therapist by his side, Warren walks up to 150 feet at a time.

“It’s amazing to me how far I’ve come,” Warren noted as he prepared to be discharged from inpatient therapy, 10 weeks to the day he was admitted. “Without these therapists I would not have been able to accomplish any of this. I have mixed emotions about going home. I’m a bit nervous because I’ll still need to use a wheelchair and my house isn’t as accessible as I wish it could be. But I’m excited to get back home and return to my old routine.”

Warren’s left side has recovered quicker than his right side but he is determined to continue his exercises to improve his strength. Though he is still not able to completely maneuver the stairs at home, he notes that with what the therapists have taught him, it will be a matter of time before he returns to Marianjoy and walks up the simulated staircase in the gym.

On his last day of therapy, Warren was surrounded by his therapists as they shared stories and laughter about their time together. “It was a long difficult road but Marianjoy is the best,” he confirms.

“I had incredible support as I recovered, especially from my wife. She never left my side once, even sleeping every night in my room.

“You never realize how important the role of a physical or occupational therapist is until you need them. And around here, they mean business. If you are even five minutes late for therapy, they come looking for you. You are here to get better and you have to put in the work so you can continue to improve. I got to know many of them and I asked why they decided to become therapists and you know, there was a common theme in all of their responses. They all said that the reward is in helping people get better. And without them, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I was ready to give up in the beginning. I really thought I had made a mistake in coming here and that maybe I should just go home. But they kept encouraging me and saw my potential. I’m so thankful for that."