Washington Redskins’ quarterback, Danny Wuerffel, has been diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome, a disorder characterized by the immune system attacking the nervous system in response to a gastrointestinal or respiratory infection, usually appearing a few days or weeks after the virus has presented itself. Occasionally, it is thought that vaccinations or undergoing surgery can also act as a trigger for the disorder.
The first symptoms of the debilitating disorder are weakness and an abnormal tingling sensation in the legs that soon spread to the upper body. Normal reflexes are lost (eg knee jerk) as the signals travelling along nerve endings are too slow. In a typical case the symptoms increase with intensity until the muscles are unable to be used at all, and can, the most severe cases leading to complete paralysis. At that stage their condition is considered life threatening and the patient will require immediate hospitalization and the use of respiratory equipment to assist with breathing or other machines to assist with bodily functioning.
With its sudden onset, the disorder can be devastating. The patient will generally reach their weakest point within two to three weeks after the initial diagnosis. Recovery can take place within a few weeks up to several years.
“It puts life into perspective, doesn’t it?” Wuerffel said.
The 37-year-old is expected to recover and has received a lot of support, including from his college coach (Steve Spurrier) and former Florida coach, Urban Meyer, alongside Will Muschamp – current Gators’ coach.
“It reminds of when I was playing and people were cheering and pulling for you,” he says.
Most sufferers recover from the illness although some still experience weakness. A rare few are less lucky.
Basketball coach, Mike Sutton, was diagnosed with Guillain-Barré in 2005 and following a long period of hospitalization, now walks with a cane.
“Most people recover fully, I was one of the unlucky ones,” Sutton said. “The statistics are in Danny’s favor. The hardest part right now is they can’t tell him when he is going to start getting better. It sounds like it’s not getting worse, and that’s the key. I had a really bad case. He was a professional athlete, so that obviously helps him.”
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