LAST YEAR, A SUDDEN, RARE ILLNESS THREATENED TO ROB JUDITH BOOTH OF WHAT SHE LOVED AND THE EVERYDAY ABILITIES SHE TOOK FOR GRANTED. HER REHABILITATION TEAM MADE SURE THAT DIDN’T HAPPEN.
For Judith, a 75-year-old retired teacher’s aide from Washington County, being active has always been part of who she is. Walking is one of her favorite activities, and she and her husband, David, belong to a swim club. Family is another indispensable part of her identity. In January 2016, while the Booths were visiting their son and his family in Boulder, Colorado, terrible symptoms blindsided Judith.
“I woke up in the middle of the night with intense pain in both legs,” Judith says. “My back felt like it was on fire.”
The physicians in the Emergency Department at a local hospital couldn’t arrive at a diagnosis and wanted to send Judith to Denver for a higher level of care. She refused. She was determined to go home and see her primary care physician (PCP), whom she called from the Denver airport.
“When we got back to Pennsylvania, I kept seeing the same signs stacked one atop the other along the highway,” Judith says. “I was having double vision. When I saw my PCP and told her
that, she insisted I go to the Emergency Department. She knew something was seriously wrong.”
A RARE PROBLEM
Judith was rushed to an Emergency Department in Pittsburgh, where physicians were initially stumped by her symptoms. As the days passed, she grew steadily weaker. Even picking up a cup
of water was nearly impossible. On the fourth day of Judith’s hospitalization, a breakthrough occurred. When the Chief of Neurology at the hospital questioned Judith about her recent travel
and immunizations, she said she’d received a pneumonia shot two weeks earlier.
“When I mentioned the pneumonia shot, something clicked for the physician,” Judith says. “He told me I had Guillain-Barré syndrome [GBS], which I’d never heard of.”
GBS prompts the immune system to attack the peripheral nervous system, leading to a variety of muscle- and nerve-related symptoms. It affects only one in 100,000 people, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. The causes of GBS are poorly understood, but in rare cases, it can occur following vaccination.
After Judith received intravenous medication for two days, a few things were clear: She needed intensive rehabilitation therapy, and she wanted to have it close to home. She chose to go to
Washington Health System.
For Judith, getting her life back started with nine days of inpatient physical, occupational and speech therapy at WHS Washington Hospital’s Acute Rehab Unit. Therapists helped her
with a variety of deficits, from weakness in her arms and legs to processing and vocalizing her thoughts. By the time Judith went home, she could walk with a walker and feed herself,
but much work remained.
After three months of in-home therapy three times a week from an outside agency, Judith was still looking for solutions. Her husband, David, a member of the WHS Wilfred R. Cameron Wellness Center, spoke with Roger Marino, MPT, WHS Outpatient Rehabilitation Manager, about his wife.
“Roger told David, ‘Bring her here,’” Judith says. “‘We’ll get herback to where she wants to be.’”
From March to April 2016, Judith went to WHS Outpatient Rehabilitation three times a week for physical and occupational therapy. The therapists’ main concerns were helping Judith avoid a potentially devastating fall, as well as improving her ability to use eating utensils and get in and out of bed.
“The therapists concentrated on working my legs and arms, and they helped me learn how to navigate steps,” Judith says. “I felt much more confident after therapy.”
More than a year after her therapy ended, Judith’s friends and family marvel at how well she’s doing. The symptoms of GBS are gone, except for tingling in the tips of her fingers.
“I didn’t think I would ever recover from GBS,” Judith says. “I have the staff at WHS to thank for that.”