The Children's Institute Blog

From Paralysis To Golfing: Battling Guillain-Barre Syndrome

Posted: Aug 16, 2017 by The Children's Institute

On Sunday, April 30, 2017, Jonathan Wallowicz went to the hospital because he felt tingling in his hands and feet. Three days later, he was paralyzed from the shoulders down. Five days later, he was on a ventilator.

But on Wednesday, July 19, 2017 – after an intensive inpatient battle with Guillain–Barré
Syndrome, a rapid-onset muscle weakness caused by the immune system damaging the nervous system – Jonathan walked out of The Children’s Institute of Pittsburgh on his own two feet.

“There’s an overwhelming gratefulness we feel – we feel blessed,” said Tracy Wallowicz, Jonathan’s mother. “He’s made progress already that we thought would take much, much longer. This environment and the care he has been given is exactly what made the difference.”

Jonathan came to The Children’s Institute after a two-week stay in Allegheny General Hospital’s neuro-intensive care unit. His stay at Allegheny General was preceded by a three-week stay in the neuro-intensive care unit at Miami Valley Hospital in Ohio, near where the 19-year-old native of Seven Fields, Pa. was completing his freshman year at the University of Dayton. When he arrived here, he had a tracheotomy, was still vented and was being tube-fed. He had lost 50 pounds. He hadn’t been able to speak in weeks and communicated only by having his lips read.

“The Monday after I got here, they took the trach out,” Jonathan said. “Two weeks later, I started to stand.”

There was a lot of intense therapy, though, that led to those improvements, stressed Jonathan and his occupational therapist, Leslie Paat.

“The hardest part of therapy was just working on sitting up when it was painful, getting lightheaded,” Jonathan said. “Same with standing. You just want to stop after 30 seconds – it’s hard.”

“It’s all him,” Leslie said. “Jonathan is extremely motivated and goal-oriented. He’s extremely disciplined. He’s very driven. He has a supportive family … and that’s why he is where he is.”

Jonathan said he “can’t even imagine” what his older brother, 20, and younger sister, 17, were thinking about as they watched him fight with Guillain–Barré. “[When I went to the hospital] I thought it was Lyme’s Disease. I’d never heard of Guillain–Barré,” he said. “I thought I was going to get a steroid from the emergency room.”

Now that he’s walking and going home, Jonathan has a few other things on his mind: finishing up his spring classes, returning to school and playing golf.

“That was his goal on the first day: he wanted to golf before the end of summer,” Leslie said. “I think he’s well on his way.”

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