“It started on a Sunday,” remembers Dylan Polzin. “My foot was tingling, numb.”
At first, Dylan didn’t think much of it. He was 30 years old and in good health. The problem, he thought, was just that his shoe was too tight. But when there was no change on Monday, he began to worry. On Tuesday, both feet were numb. On Wednesday, his arms had grown tingly too.
“I went to the ER,” he remembers, and from there the condition continued to grow worse. “On Friday, I got a spinal tap. That’s when the neurologist found out I had Guillain-Barre.”
Guillain-Barre Syndrome, or GBS, is a disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks the nerves. Though it has recently appeared in headlines due to its connection to COVID-19 (which is not how Dylan developed the condition), GBS is incredibly rare. Fewer than 20,000 cases are reported in the United States each year (less than .006% of the population).
“I was in shock,” says Dylan.
In less than a week, he had gone from completely healthy to completely paralyzed. For five days he lay in his hospital bed, unable to move, a prisoner in his own body.
Yet, Dylan did not despair.
“You have to have a positive outlook,” he says.
Dylan was given a special blood treatment (IVIG) to stop the progression of the disease. After five weeks in the hospital, he left in a wheelchair, with very little of his sensation returned.
Regaining his strength—and his independence—was the next step of recovery. In that, his family was instrumental.
His mother offered up her office as a temporary apartment (as Dylan’s home was not handicap accessible). His brother and stepfather remodeled the office bathroom to make it wide enough for his wheelchair. Various loved ones gave him car rides, brought him food, and visited with him to keep his spirits up.
“If you surround yourself with people who support you, it makes a difference,” says Dylan.
Additional support came from Dylan’s team of physical therapists. During his first week at “home,” Dylan found it difficult just getting out of bed. Within a few weeks, his PTs had him using his wheelchair. Then he was standing. And finally, he was learning to walk again.
Dylan is far from full strength, but he is determined to get there. “You just have to keep telling yourself you’ll get through this,” he says, “and don’t take the small things for granted.”