Gunnar Sorell is a typical teenager. He loved hanging out with his friends, had just graduated from high school and had recently starting playing golf. He also worked in the kitchen at his family’s restaurant, Tailgater’s Steakhouse.
“I did the grill for burgers and steaks and then all the fryer stuff,” Gunnar said. “I could do anything in the kitchen.”
His hometown of Clifton, Kansas is also home to a large 4th of July parade, and it was after celebrating our nation’s independence, that Gunnar noticed something wasn’t quite right.
“My thighs were a little bit numb, but I didn’t think anything of it,” Gunnar said. “Then it was getting hard for me to walk up the stairs, and it just got to the point where I couldn’t do anything. Not knowing what it was and losing my muscle function, it was very scary.”
Gunnar was taken to Clay Center Medical Center’s emergency room before being sent to Stormont Vail Health in Topeka, Kansas. He was diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), a rare neurological condition in which the body’s immune system attacks the nerves, causing rapid-onset muscle weakness. Gunnar’s GBS was treated with plasmapheresis, a type of dialysis that removes the infected white blood cells out, cleans them and puts them back into the blood stream.
Still experiencing loss of muscle function and weakness, Gunnar came to Madonna Rehabilitation Hospitals, needing to retrain his body and brain to work together.
“When he first got here, he was a max-assist with a lot of his mobility and had a lot of proximal weakness,” Laura Selivanoff, PT, DPT, physical therapist, said. “We really had to work on strengthening his core a lot. That was a big component.”
With his daily physician visits, coupled with intense physical and occupational therapies, Gunnar went from tolerating standing to walking on the Lokomat robotic gait trainer to using the overhead tracking system for gait training as well. He also benefitted from use of the Functional Electrical Stimulation Bike and the Bioness to kick start the return in his hands.
Gunnar also enjoyed using Madonna’s warm water therapy pool.
“There was really a switch that went off and I think the biggest catalyst of that was the pool,” Gunnar said. “There was just so much I could do in the pool. When I first got in the pool, I didn’t have any motion in my arms, but in the water, my arms were weightless so I could move them up and down and out to the side. I also started doing the running motion, squats and lunges. The pool was a huge confidence booster for me and gave me hope because I realized things still did work.”
Sarah Stevicks , the physical therapist assistant in the pool, noted that the pool is especially beneficial for patients with Guillain-Barré.
“Standing at waist depth, a patient is 50% unweighted; standing at chest depth, is 75% unweighted, so a lot of patients, even if they don’t stand initially and just float, they can move their arms and legs on the surface of the water,” Stevicks said. “There’s no resistance like on a mat in the therapy gym.”
The repetition on both land and in the water helped Gunnar re-map neurological pathways and after about eight weeks, he transitioned from the inpatient program to Madonna’s intensive, outpatient rehabilitation day program. Once there, he focused on relearning how to drive a car again.
He worked with occupational therapists on the driving simulator and passed the driving seminar.
“He was worried about his left and right arm being able to hold that steering wheel,” Grant Baker, OTD, OTR/L, occupational therapist, said. “But he found a way to support it while he gained that strength.”
Throughout his journey at Madonna, Gunnar remained motivated and carried himself with a maturity beyond his years, one that staff and peers noticed and appreciated.
“The youth never played in,” Stevicks said. “He was just always very, very mature from day one.”
“The biggest thing with him was he just had an athletic background and he also just had a drive where he had plans to go on to a technical college here in the next few months,” Baker said. “He really wanted to get back to that and being able to help out his family business. And so those two things, plus the competitiveness from the athletic background, he kind of channeled all that and motivated himself to work hard.”
Gunnar is back home and working in the kitchen again, making modifications while rebuilding his stamina, but is appreciative of where he is at.
“I have every function back that I used to have,” Gunnar said. “It’s just at such a lower level. I just got to keep building my strength back up. My biggest goal was to make sure that I would be able to attend the Chiefs game in December, which I will easily be able to.”