Ga. woman struggles with paralyzing disorder Guillain-Barré syndrome

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Glenda Pope is at HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital of Newnan, working her way back from a frightening place:  being paralyzed.  She has Guillain-Barré syndrome.

The 63-year old retired 5th grade teacher and mother of 5 has always been healthy.  But, she woke up January 19, 2016 with tingling and numbness in her fingers and toes.

"That night, as I was cooking supper, I noticed it had started coming up my fingers,” Pope says. “Same thing with my toes."

By the next morning, Pope's ankles and wrists were numb.

"I thought to myself this is really weird,” she says.

When the weakness spread up her arms and legs, Pope finally went to the ER.

She was diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome, OR GBS.

 "It's a syndrome that has a pretty quick onset,” says Emory School of Medicine Assistant Professor of Medicine and neurologist Dr. Taylor Harrison.

GBS is a rare autoimmune/neurological disorder that affects about 1 out every 100,000 people. It targets nerves that line our muscles and skin.

"In this disease, it thinks that your nerves are the enemy,” explains Glenda Pope.  “So, it attacks them. You don't get those brain signals that say, ‘Muscle, work.’ You know, ‘Muscle, pick this up.’"  

Glenda doesn't know how -- or why -- she developed GBS.

 "Probably the most commonly-associated trigger is an infection,” says Dr. Harrison.

He says says about two-thirds of people with GBS report having an infection, like a stomach bug or respiratory virus in the weeks before they fell ill. 

But, sometimes, surgery can trigger GBS.  And, in very rare cases, so can vaccinations.

And the CDC is now looking into reports GBS may be linked to the fast-spreading Zika virus in Latin America.

“The important thing to recognize is the vast majority of patients do get better over time,” says Dr. Harrison.

“At six months, about 80% of patients are able to walk again.”

It may take Glenda Pope months to get back on her feet again, but she says she will get better.

"It can happen to anybody,” she says.  “But the good news is it is curable and treatable.”