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Madonna Rehabilitation Hospitals

Focus on family helps new father overcome Guillain-Barre syndrome

February 21, 2022

Andrew Karr’s 9-month-old son, Arthur, is learning to walk and talk. Andrew is now relearning those same skills after being diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome in December. What started as a persistent cough led to pneumonia, causing his body to attack his nervous system. The new dad spent three weeks at Methodist Hospital in Omaha, very weak and struggling with coordination. He couldn’t hold his son, kiss his wife or tell his signature jokes. Andrew came to Madonna Rehabilitation Hospitals at the end of December, motivated to get back to everything he loves.

“He’s been clear since the beginning about what his goals are – to be a husband, to be a father, to return to his occupation and make absolutely as much gain as he can,” Katie Johnson, a speech-language pathologist at Madonna, said. “He was willing to work to reach those goals.”

As Andrew became stronger, his care team began using specialized technology to help wake up his muscles, from his head to his toes. Johnson used kinesiology tape and a VitalStim electrical stimulation device to reactivate Andrew’s facial muscles and improve his swallowing and speech.

“The kinesiology tape helps those muscles stay in their optimal positions to help facilitate sensory awareness for the different muscle groups,” Johnson said. “The VitalStim helps with strengthening and improving motor planning so he can use a straw or kiss his wife.”

Andrew also utilized the FES functional electrical stimulation bike during his occupational and physical therapy sessions. The machine targeted the muscles necessary to walk and play with his son.

“I was just motivated to master potty training before he would, and I won on that accord, but I think he may be able to beat me in the solo walk because he’s doing really well,” Andrew joked. “But seriously, it’s humbling, because you take a lot of things for granted and when you lose them, you feel sorry for yourself.”

A visit from one of Madonna’s peer volunteers, a former Madonna patient, Angie Prusse, helped lift Andrew’s spirits. She knew firsthand what it’s like to struggle with motivation during rehabilitation.

Inspired and energized by Angie's experiences at Madonna, Andrew propelled forward in his rehabilitation journey. First, he mastered standing at the parallel bars. Then, he progressed to a few steps in Madonna’s warm water therapy pool and started to use only a walker. Finally, he achieved a more natural gait on the Madonna ICARE by SportsArt, a motorized elliptical.

Throughout his five weeks at Madonna, Andrew focused on getting back to his life roles as an active husband and father. His care team worked with him to ensure he was able to not only work on activities of daily living and self-care, but also on things that mattered to him, like getting on the floor to play with his son, changing diapers and safely pushing a stroller. Using Madonna’s Independence Square, Andrew could simulate each of those activities until he felt comfortable returning to his community.

“Things like being able to hold his little boy, give his wife a kiss, those are what’s motivating to the patients because we don’t just get ourselves up, eat breakfast, get dressed and do therapy,” Johnson said. “Those are not the typical life roles and those are not the only things the patients want to do, so it’s very motivating to incorporate those small goals.”

Once Andrew felt comfortable, his son Arthur also participated in his therapy so Andrew’s care team could give him real-world tips and tricks on how to be an active father safely.

“This team of wonderful individuals are able to make recommendations and utilize my skills and assets, and let me know where I’m weaker, give me that positive reinforcement but at the same time recommend something different that is safer to assist with me taking care of Arthur,” Andrew said.

While he’s excited to be heading home to his family, Andrew knows he will miss the bonds he formed with his care team.

“Especially in a time of COVID when you’re not really with your family, you kind of create one here,” Andrew said. “It’s been a memorable ride, and if I had to do it again, it would be with the team that I have right now.”

Andrew will be participating in Madonna’s Rehabilitation Day Program on an outpatient basis and plans to return as a peer volunteer so he can pay it forward to future patients.

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