Paralyzed no more
Appeal Staff Writer
It’s the last week in December and 18-year-old Jack Maloney has just returned from a trip to Hawaii with his folks.
Nothing out of the ordinary, except that earlier in 2005, Jack, then a Carson High School junior, couldn’t move anything from his neck down.
He couldn’t move his legs. He couldn’t move his arms. He couldn’t even move his left pinkie.
“I was in a wheelchair for a couple of weeks, and then crutches and then I used a cane,” he said. “There were times it was pretty difficult.”
The hardest thing was seeing the spring baseball season with the Senators slowly slip away.
Jack had Guillain-Barré Syndrome (pronounced ghee-yan bah-ray), an inflammation of the nerves that can cause numbness, tingling, weakness and even paralysis, as in Jack’s case.
Typically, Guillain-Barré follows a viral or bacterial infection, often gastrointestinal or respiratory in nature. At times, surgery or vaccinations can trigger the syndrome.
“I had a sinus infection before I got the whole thing,” Jack said.
In Guillain-Barré, the body’s immune system attacks the peripheral nervous system. Recovery can take weeks to years, but most patients can expect to recover over several months, as Jack did. The syndrome, named after French neurologists Georges Guillain and Jean Alexandre Barré, is known as GBS.
A couple weeks after his February diagnosis, Jack was at Carson Tahoe Rehabilitation Center looking at his left pinkie. And he noticed something.
“I was sitting in my hospital bed and I just kind of fidgeted with it and it started to move,” he said. “Everyone got really excited and so did I.”
After that, things began to progress.
“The only good thing about GBS is that when you start to move a little bit, it’s done. You can only get better,” he said.
While GBS can affect either sex and any age, only about one in 100,000 people is afflicted. Jack had an even rarer “axonal” form, where he could feel sensation in his body, but was unable to respond.
“It was the oddest thing sitting there and feeling everything, but just being unable to move,” Jack said.
After motion returned to his pinkie, his left hand came back, and from there he found he could bend his elbows and lift items toward his chest. Things just got better after that.
“The last real thing to come back was my feet and my ankles,” he said. “It took a long time for them to come back.”
During the summer, he continued to progress, and by fall he was back to normal.
“I am 100 percent recovered, 100 percent,” he said “I actually say a little more than 100 percent. I’m actually stronger and faster than before I got GBS. There is no residual effect. I am probably in the best shape of my life right now.”
He had been able to keep up with his school work, and September found him back at Carson High as a senior and vice-president of the class. He was even a nominee for Homecoming King.
He is working out several times a week. His weight is up and he plans to play baseball for the Senators in the spring, probably left field. While he has fully recovered, there are moments that take him back.
“I can just be walking down the street or the hallway sometimes and I’ll get this sudden wave of appreciation for everything,” he said. “Every step I take … I can’t even explain it. I wasn’t able to walk and now I can. I feel so much for people who are never going to be able to walk for the rest of their lives. I feel what happened to me is a blessing.”
He plans to attend the University of Nevada, Reno next year and wants to room with his best friend. He hopes to study criminal law, and possibly business, with further dreams of law school.
“I was always very hopeful,” he said. “I always felt I was on my own schedule and I was going to get things done the way I was going to get things done.
“You do what you can do and you do what you need to do and you do it on your own steam. I obviously wasn’t going to get anywhere in the hospital bed sulking.”
Having seen 2005 come to an end, with the trip to Hawaii with his dad, Mike, an attorney, and his mom, Karen, a teacher at Piñon Hills Elementary School in Douglas County, he is seeing 2006 enter with a bright promising face.
“I generally think everything happens for a reason,” he said. “I just know I will appreciate everything in life for the rest of my life as long as I live.”
— Contact reporter Maggie O’Neill at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1219.
• Early symptoms include tingling, numbness and weakness in the hands and feet.
• The weakness usually spreads through the entire lower extremities and then later to the upper extremities. Within four weeks, the disease is full force.
• The true danger involves weakness in the respiratory system. Some patients may need to be intubated.
• Recovery can take from a few weeks to several years. Up to 3 percent of people report muscle weaknesses and tingling later in life.