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Guillain Barre Syndrome
Presentation to the Annandale History Club
March 2, 2009
Art Geisinger


Arthur Geisinger was diagnosed with Guillain Barre Syndrome in May 1999 and has fully recovered.  Guillain Barre is an autoimmune disease affecting the peripheral nervous system usually triggered by an acute infectious process.  The incidence of Guillain Barre in the United States is approximately one in 100,000.  Art knows of three other people in the Annandale area who have been diagnosed with Guillain Barre.  Because early detection is crucial in the treatment of Guillain Barre, he and his wife, Ruby, want everyone to be aware of the symptoms. 


The following information is from the Guillain Barre Syndrome Support Group of the United Kingdom.


Guillain Barre was named after two French physicians that described it in 1916 in two soldiers that were affected by paralysis, but later recovered.  It is more common in the United Kingdom, one in 40,000, and is  more rare in the United States, approximately one in 100,000.  Doctors do not know where it comes from or why one person is afflicted and another person is not.


If you feel any of the symptoms listed below, contact your physician immediately:

.  Tingling or loss of feeling in the toes and fingers.

.  Arms feel heavy and limp and cannot grip or turn things properly.

.  Legs will not bear weight.

.  Arms become weak and the doctor finds that the tendon reflexes have disappeared.


Doctors may want to know your medical history and if you have had any recent exposure to:

.  Recent infections or vaccinations

.  Toxin exposure

.  Alcohol intake

.  Tick bites

.  Family history of nerve diseases or diabetes


The answer to these questions could lead to the detection of Guillain Barre or to a different diagnosis.  However, the more knowledge and preparation you and your doctor have can make a difference in your health.


Annandale Advocate, July 14, 1999 - By Ffjorren Purcell – Arthur Geisinger knew something was wrong when the muscle behind his knee gave out, causing him to break through a sheet rock wall headfirst.  That was a couple of months ago.  Arthur had no idea what was going on with his body or where the symptoms were coming from.


Three days later, Geisinger was diagnosed with Guillain Barre Syndrome, also known as French Polio, a rare illness that causes weakness and loss of sensation in the muscles and tendons.  Arthur was not prepared for the answer that he received.


Dr. Kurt Lemke, of the Clearwater Medical Clinic, had never treated anyone with this illness before.  Lemke suspected and correctly diagnosed the Guillain Barre Syndrome.  But Lemke knew that time was not on his side.  “The early detection by Dr. Lemke was very important with this diagnosis,” Arthur said.  Arthur was sent to St. Cloud Hospital within an hour of seeing Lemke.


Guillain (pronounced Ghee-on) Barre (pronounced Bar-ray) is a painful illness that moves quickly and intensely throughout the body.  The disease is caused by inflammation of the peripheral nerves, often called neuritis.  The peripheral nerves connect the central nervous system to the muscles and to the joints and skin.  When the inflammation occurs, the immune system sends cells, lymphocytes, to attack the nerves, instead of fighting off the infection.


When Arthur and Ruby arrived at St. Cloud Hospital, their doctor ran tests to verify Lemke’s diagnosis.  The tests included blood tests, a lumbar puncture and electromyogram (EMG).  The EMG is an electrical recording of muscle activity and plays a crucial role in detecting Guillain Barre.  The diagnosis was correct.  Arthur was sent to the University of Minnesota the next morning for treatment.


The University of Minnesota Hospital is one of two hospitals in Minnesota that are equipped to deal with such a disease.  Treatment for Guillain Barre can only be made within a certain amount of time from the point of diagnosis.  It is made from a human blood product called gamma globulin, which is infused into a vein intravenously.  Gamma globulin provides “good antibodies” which fight off the “bad antibodies” that were attacking the nerves. 


Arthur received a daily dose of treatment for five days; each treatment was at least 24 hours apart.  “The worst thing about the whole thing was the pain I got with it,” Arthur said.  After the first treatment, Arthur felt as if he was getting worse.  He probed every nurse and doctor for an answer.  No one that he spoke to could offer any suggestions or solutions.  “I wanted to know where it came from,” Arthur said.  “If it was the treatment or if it was just my own pain.”


After the second treatment, Arthur began to feel better and relieved that the pain was diminishing.   The pain that accompanied the treatment, he believes, was from the treatment itself.  Arthur progressed rapidly; the doctors and nurses could not believe how fast he was recovering.  After his last treatment, on May 24, he was sent to the Fairview Hospital transitional services for therapy.


Arthur was still feeling some pain in his legs and lower back during his therapy at Fairview; they gave him a pain pill every three hours, which helped immensely.  Arthur said he worked every day and all day at the therapy, which increased his ability to heal at a faster rate.  Arthur was sent home on a cane on June 7 and was given a list of daily exercises to work on until he was off of the cane and could walk on his own.


“People need to understand it and get to the doctor,” Ruby said.  Guillain Barre can affect anyone at any age; however, the older you are, the longer it may take to recover.  Within three days of the first symptoms, the disease can spread to the lungs and eyes, which means bigger problems and a definite longer period of recovery.  This disease is not typically fatal; however, people have died from it before.  Once a person has gone through the disease and treatment, there is a possibility of recurrence; however, it is also unlikely.


Arthur is doing much better and continues to work on his daily exercises; Ruby is just glad that it is all over.  “If I can help just one person get early detection of this disease, then it has been a worthwhile effort,” Arthur said.


Notes by Annandale History Club Secretary