Homewood Man Victorious Over Rare Neurological Disorder

Guillain-Barre syndrome is a condition that's as rare as it sounds, affecting one in 100,000 Americans each year.

"With Guillain-Barre syndrome, the body's immune system begins attacking the nerves that carry signals to the brain," explains Engin Yilmaz, M.D., board-certified neurologist on staff at Ingalls. "The nerves' protective covering (myelin sheath) is damaged, and this damage interferes with the signaling process, causing weakness, numbness or paralysis."

Early signs are pain, tingling, inappropriate sensations and ascending paralysis in the legs. The exact cause of Guillain-Barre syndrome is unknown, and many cases appear to occur without any triggers, and suddenly, without warning.

Isaac West's case was one of them.

Guillain-Barre blindsided the 69-year-old Homewood man last February as he was sitting down to breakfast. "My hands froze, and I dropped my knife and fork on the floor," he explains. "Before I knew it, I was on the floor too."

Alone at the time, Isaac managed to call his wife at work, using the back of his hand to operate his phone. She called an ambulance for him, and the otherwise healthy retiree was rushed to the Ingalls Emergency Department.

He was having trouble breathing, and the weakness that started in his arms and facial muscles became severe until he had complete paralysis of all extremities, as well as his respiratory and swallowing muscles.

Doctors ordered a spinal tap to definitively diagnose the condition. The test came back positive, and Isaac was admitted to the hospital's intensive care unit, where he was placed on a ventilator for two weeks to ease his breathing.

Treatment for Guillain-Barre involves a technique called plasmapheresis, which is a type of blood cleansing. "Plasmapheresis consists of removing the liquid portion of the blood (plasma) and separating it from the actual blood cells," Dr. Yilmaz said. "The blood cells are then put back into the body, which manufactures more plasma to make up for what was removed."

Isaac spent three months in the hospital, regaining his strength and slowly learning to walk again through physical and occupational therapy.

Today, Isaac walks with the help of a weighted cane. He can once again feed himself and use the bathroom alone. The determined grandfather of 16 looks forward to resuming an active life, swimming and playing baseball with his grandchildren. "Ingalls was brilliant. I'm alive today because of God and because of them."

For more information, call Ingalls Care Connection at 708.915.CARE (2273).

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