Airman Struggles Back From Guillain Barre Syndrome

February 13, 2013

DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. — Imagine having to relearn all the things you learned as a kid: how to eat, how to walk, how to talk. Imagine how frustrated and devastated you would be.

That’s exactly what happened to Airman 1st Class Lori Cord, 436th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chief, when she acquired a rare illness in late October of 2012.

A few days before Cord went home on leave, she received the annual flu immunization in the form of the flu mist. When she got to her home in Woodstock, Ga., Cord began to notice symptoms, but initially brushed them off.

“I noticed my feet were becoming numb and felt like they were being stuck with pins and needles,” Cord said. “I was also starting to have a neck problem. Then my tongue started to go numb, and then my entire mouth, it was weird. Then my hands felt like pins and needles, and the next night it got worse.”

A day before she was scheduled to return to Dover Air Force Base, Cord said she began to feel really weak. She tried to help her grandmother with some yard work, but she could barely pick up a 20 lb. bag of mulch and said afterwards her calves felt like they were on fire.

The day of her flight, Friday Nov. 2, both Cord and her parents knew something was wrong. The plan was for Cord to go straight to the emergency room once she got back to Delaware because they were afraid of her being stuck in Georgia.

When she arrived at the airport in Philadelphia, her friend, Senior Airman Nicholas Anderson, immediately noticed something was not right.

“Well, her flight arrives and I’m waiting in the terminal for what seemed like forever,” Anderson said. “Then I finally see her and she is holding on to the wall as she is shuffling towards me. I asked her what was going on and she said her feet hurt and the pain was moving up her legs. I told her we had to get to the ER now.”

Anderson and Cord spent seven and half hours at the emergency room, but the doctors were unable to determinewhat she had or what her symptoms meant. The doctors wanted her to see a neurologist on the following Monday.

Anderson said he and his roommate, Senior Airman Nicolaos Hofbauer, stayed with her over the weekend because they didn’t want to leave her alone.

“Over the weekend it seemed like it had leveled out some,” Anderson said. “On Monday, things seemed to get worse; she had to walk with her leaning on us. When we got to work they said to get her to the emergency room.”

Cord said her condition started to deteriorate rapidly at the hospital.

“On Monday, I was a hot mess,” Cord said. “I couldn’t feel my back when I took a shower. When we got to the front desk they noticed I was walking weird and got me a wheel chair. When they saw that I couldn’t even fill out the paperwork or hold a pen, I think they could tell something was really wrong. When we got back to the family medical area, I was slouching more and more, and they let a doctor see me really quick.”

Cord’s condition continued to deteriorate at an alarming pace. Along with all of her other symptoms, her speech started slurring badly. They took Cord to the downtown emergency room by ambulance.

Once at the ER, a neurologist did a spinal tap and found an extreme amount of proteins in her spine. The next thing Cord knew, she was told she was being transferred to the intensive care unit. There she was told for the first time what she had; something that would change her life.

Guillain Barre Syndrome.  GBS is a disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks part of the peripheral nervous system.

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