In May 2021, Elizabeth Thornton felt a head cold coming on. The assistant director to the public library in Mulvane, Kansas, decided to stay home for a day, “just in case.” Despite having similar symptoms to COVID-19, her family doctor told her she had a sinus infection. Relieved, Elizabeth went home to recover.
“The next day, I got up, took my pills, and went back to sleep,” Elizabeth recalled. “My husband woke me up and it was evening. I was just so tired.”
Elizabeth’s teenage daughter Abigail knew this was no ordinary sinus infection. She took her mother to the ER, where they confirmed Elizabeth had COVID-19. She and her family were quarantined, and Elizabeth slowly began to feel better.
“I thought I was over the worst,” Elizabeth said. “I was willing to get up and make food for myself, and I thought, ‘Look at me, I’m kicking COVID’s butt.’”
But then Elizabeth’s condition rapidly took a turn for the worse. She began to feel a tingling in her feet and the feeling soon spread to her hands and face.
“The next day, I couldn’t walk,” Elizabeth said. “It felt like [walking on] shards of glass and fire.”
An MRI test later revealed Elizabeth had a severe case of Guillain-Barré syndrome, a rare neurological disorder that causes the body’s immune system to attack itself.
With her new diagnosis, Elizabeth transferred to Wesley Medical Center in Wichita. She spent the next month in the ICU and fell into a coma.
“The next thing I know, I wake up, and it’s been days,” Elizabeth said. “My family took the time to explain to me what had happened, what Guillain-Barré syndrome even was.”
The typically active librarian couldn’t walk or talk, and she needed medical rehabilitation.
“I wanted to go to Madonna,” Elizabeth said. “I had heard all these stories from others about it, and I’m so glad I came here.”
Elizabeth started her rehabilitation journey at Madonna’s Specialty Hospital, where she regained her strength and stability. Once she could tolerate a few hours of therapy a day, she transitioned to Madonna’s Rehabilitation Hospital, where she relearned basic life skills. Dressing herself, getting in and out of the family car, and standing for a minute at a time have become small victories.
“Every time I meet one of these goals, I’m just so happy,” Elizabeth said, tearing up. “It’s amazing how great the therapists are here at Madonna. It’s so silly to cry about it, but I was so happy to [be able to] stand.”
Elizabeth’s road to recovery has been a long one, and she’s looking forward to reaching even more milestones before she returns home to her family and her work.
“I have seen myself get stronger here,” Elizabeth said. “And if I leave here in a wheelchair, I’ll still feel blessed.”