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Published on March 13, 2014

Finding Relief from Guillain-Barré Syndrome

Guillain Barre Theray - Outpatient RehabilitationWhen talking with Terry Schooley, it doesn’t take long to realize she’s had an interesting life. As a young teacher expecting her first child, she challenged and won the legal right to teach beyond the first six months of pregnancy. For decades, she devoted herself to the work of children’s issues, including a 17-year stint as a member of the Delaware House of Representatives. She also recently accompanied her husband, a retired Presbyterian minister, on a six-month trip to Paris where he works at The American Church.

In the spring of 2013, her life took a frightening turn. Terry began to have numbness in her hands and then her feet. Having just moved to North Carolina, she didn’t have a primary care doctor who knew her and the first doctors she saw weren’t able to correctly identify the cause of the numbness. Her numbness got worse and she began to have trouble walking. Her condition progressed to the point where her numbness was total and she needed a walker to get around. She couldn’t even brush her teeth.

In April 2013, Terry saw Dr. Yijun Yan at Guilford Neurologic Associates. It was clear to Dr. Yan that the condition she had was Guillain-Barré syndrome, a neurologic condition that affects nerve conduction, including sensation – explaining Terry’s numbness – and motor control. Dr. Yan treated Terry with plasmaphoresis, in which a part of Terry’s blood plasma was essentially removed and replaced. After five of these treatments, she began to improve and could walk unassisted again.

When Terry saw Dr. Yan for follow-up, she was asked to perform tasks like walking on her toes, on her heels and heel to toe. The results of those tests prompted a referral to physical therapy.

Therapy for Guillain Barre SyndromeTerry was referred to Robin Waldron, physical therapist at Cone Health Outpatient Neurorehabilitation Center. Robin was able to test Terry on the Balance Master, a machine that helps identify how much of a patient’s balance problems are due to issues with their vestibular, sensory and visual systems – all of which work well in people with normal balance. Terry was pleased with how much of a difference this testing made in the approach Robin took to her physical therapy. Robin could address exactly where Terry’s problems lay.

Robin was also a big help to Terry in the creative way she assigned homework exercises. She had Terry do things around the house like play with her grandkids, make meatloaf and pretend she was washing walls, instead of just going through a list of exercises.

Perhaps the most significant way that Robin helped Terry was a verbal one. Terry says she was very grateful to have Robin “explain what was wrong with my nervous system.” Robin could also describe the kind of course her recovery was likely to take. In addition, Terry was encouraged by Robin during her appointments because Robin could point out how much progress she had made. Those living with recovery sometimes have difficulty measuring the extent of their own progress. Terry is now back to enjoying her favorite activities, such as enjoying the sights in Paris.