Raising Awareness for Guillain-Barré Syndrome

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Hundreds were expected to attend the Gullain-Barré Syndrome (GBS) walk on March 9 at Dry Creek Park in Clovis — including a patient who received life-changing care at Kaiser Permanente Fresno. Pictured, patient Rob Vasquez was joined by his nurse, Keisha Watkins, RN, during last year’s GBS walk.

Rob Vasquez says his life changed 2 years ago after a brief illness caused him to become so weak he fell out of bed.

His wife rushed him to Kaiser Permanente Fresno’s Emergency Department and a series of tests revealed a devastating diagnosis: Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS), a rare neurological disorder that causes progressive paralysis.

“He had one of the worst cases of GBS I’ve ever seen,” said Ann Bebensee, MD, the Kaiser Permanente Fresno neurologist who first treated Vasquez.

GBS affects approximately 1 in 100,000 people each year. It can range from a very mild case with some weakness to a more severe case with complete paralysis that can leave people unable to breathe on their own.

Vasquez, 49, was paralyzed from the neck down and had to be intubated. He was moved to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), where he remained for nearly 2 months. His family rarely left his bedside.

Intensive Care Unit Nurse Keisha Watkins, RN, had just transferred from Telemetry to ICU when Vasquez became one of her first patients. Although Vasquez couldn’t talk, Watkins said she formed a close bond with him and his family.

“He had no movement of any kind,” she said. “He eventually got to the point where he could move his eyebrows to say yes or no. Every day he got a little bit better.”

Watkins said Vasquez had a fighting spirit and was one of those patients who was just happy to be alive.

“Every day I came into his room, he was so happy to see me,” she said. “You could just see the gratitude on his face.”

Vasquez said he began to feel stronger each day until he was eventually well enough to go home with the help of full-time care from family members and friends.

“It’s really amazing from where I was, to where I’m at now,” he said.

He’s back to his job as a field technician at Quinn Caterpillar in Selma, but still requires the help of a walker and wears knee braces. Vasquez said before his diagnosis he didn’t know about GBS and decided during his recovery that he wanted to raise awareness in the Fresno area.

Last year, he organized a walk to raise money for GBS research and it’s now become an annual event. This year’s walk was held on March 9 at Dry Creek Park in Clovis. Last year about 300 people attended the walk — including Watkins and a few of her Kaiser Permanente co-workers.

Vasquez said he will never forget the people he met when he was in the ICU and the high-quality care they provided to him during one of the worst times of his life.

“I’m very grateful and thankful for Kaiser,” he said. “They took great care of me and my family.”

Discussion3 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Albert A. Aguiniga

    I had a chance to go to the walk and roll on March 9, in Clovis. Was surprised to hear not much is still known about Guillain-Barre, I’ve been dealing with this for over 40 years. I spoke to a few people who are going through this and their story sounds like mine. I thought I was the only one. I know there’s not much that can be done for me now, I’ll be 65 years old this November! My heart breaks to see other people and their families go through this. I left there knowing I am not alone. I only wish it had more media coverage to make more people aware.

  2. Avatar

    What a great story with a great outcome! This makes me proud to be part of KP. Making a difference in people’s lives through high-quality care and compassion is a great motivator to always do and be your best. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Avatar
    Elizabeth McBride

    Beautiful! I also saw the healing of a person with GBS in 1985, plasma Plasmapheresis was used, plus PT and OT, and a person who couldn’t hold a half glass of water progressed, went home in a wheelchair, and later came back to say thank you. Walked in to the rehab at Northridge Hospital smiling to see us all. It was one of the happiest days of my nursing career.
    Life is beautiful and so are you,
    Liz McBride

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