Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

Local family raise awareness of rare Guillain-Barre Syndrome

A Whitecross family has spoken to The Examiner about their son’s battle with the rare and serious Guillain-Barre Syndrome.  Marianne Smyth shared her story in an effort to raise awareness about the rare autoimmune disease which can strike without warning leaving sufferers severely debilitated for weeks, months or even years depending on the severity of the case.

Miceal Smyth was a typical 21 year old, enjoying his life and his work, before he was struck with the syndrome after developing a viral infection in May this year.  According to mum Marian, her son had been complaining of a persistent cough for a number of weeks and the family had been urging him to see his GP.  Dismissing his symptoms as a common virus, Miceal carried on but became so unwell that he found it impossible to get out of bed.  The young Whitecross man was soon hospitalised and as doctors ran several tests, his worried family were finally told he was suffering from Guillain-Barre Syndrome.

The condition occurs when the body’s immune system attacks part of the nervous system, and Miceal’s family learned that most people develop Guillain-Barre syndrome after having another illness such as a viral infection, such as the common cold, influenza, a throat infection, or sometimes a bacterial infection.

The symptoms of Guillain-Barre syndrome usually develop two to four weeks after a minor infection, such as a cold, sore throat or gastroenteritis and often start in the feet and hands with pain, tingling and numbness before spreading to the arms and legs legs. The progressive muscle weakness usually affects both sides of your body, and may get worse over several days.

Most people,with Guillain-Barre syndrome make a full recovery however, they may need to spend several weeks or months in hospital and it may take a year or more to fully recover.

Therapies such as counselling, physiotherapy, occupational therapy and speech and language therapy are available to help patients recover but in some instances, symptoms can be so severe that it can be potentially life-threatening. Some people may never fully recover from the condition and suffer long term complications such as a loss of sensation, loss of balance and the inability to walk unaided.

Miceal’s symptoms developed quickly and he was transferred to intensive care as the weakness and sensory symptoms gradually became worse affecting the muscles in his chest to the extent that he needed support to breath via a ventilator.

“We were so frightened about the seriousness of his condition that we sent for two of our children to come home from Australia,” explained mum Marian.

“Miceal often says now that when he saw his brothers arriving, he got really worried and knew he was very ill.”

Thankfully, with the support of his medical team and family, Miceal is beginning to recover from the syndrome, but has a long road ahead.

A recent fundraiser held in O’Hanlon’s Bar in Whitecross to support Miceal’s rehabilitation and his family during his recovery was a tremendous success and the family are eternally grateful to everyone who donated money, gifts, vouchers or helped in any way to make the night such a success.

Marian told us Miceal will soon be moved to Musgrave Park hospital where he will be in intense physio and rehabilitation while his family continue to hope and support him in his quest to get back the life he had before being struck by the cruel illness.