HARLINGEN, Texas (KVEO) — A Rio Grande Valley native is recovering from a rare autoimmune disorder that paralyzed her in February.
She hopes to help spread awareness in May after undergoing weeks of intense physical therapy to learn how to walk and use her hands again.
“Getting better slowly,” are the words that Keyra Torres, 27, lives by. The acronym for that phrase also coincides with the acronym for the disorder she is recovering from.
The Edinburg native now lives in Bellingham, Washington, and is relearning how to walk and use her hands after contracting Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS).
The syndrome is estimated to affect one out of every 100,000 people each year and can be developed at any age, although it is more common in older people.
Common symptoms for GBS include prickly sensations in the hands and feet, weakness, difficulty with facial movements, including swallowing and talking, and difficulty breathing.
Symptoms can worsen in just a matter of days.
“I noticed that my toes started to become very numb,” said Torres. “And I noticed that it started getting worse, as in it started climbing up towards my knees.”
Torres mentioned the numbness in a routine doctor visit, but he suspected that she might have been reacting to living in a different climate.
Her doctor also told her to watch out for other symptoms and contact him again if she did not get better.
Torres’s symptoms started on Saturday, February 13, and by Tuesday, she had lost all feeling below her knees and fingers.
“I was at work, and I was trying to type on the computer, and I noticed that my fingers were kind of collapsing. I couldn’t feel anything,” said Torres. “As I got up to tell my supervisor that I wasn’t feeling well, I collapsed, and I was sent to the emergency room.”
After a spinal tap that revealed Torres had extremely high protein levels, her doctor was able to diagnose her with GBS.
In GBS, the immune system begins attacking the nervous system. The myelin, which is the protective covering for the peripheral nerves, is destroyed and prevents the nerves from transmitting signals to the brain.
Torres was put on steroid treatment and stayed in the hospital for five days before being discharged to an inpatient rehabilitation center for two weeks.
During her stay at the rehabilitation center, Torres had to learn how to walk and use her hands. She practiced cooking with modified techniques.
“Before all of this, I was an active person. I was hiking, I was roller skating, I was playing roller derby and unfortunately, right now I’m not able to do any of that because I’m still practicing how to walk,” said Torres.
Many people who develop GBS do so after a viral or bacterial infection, in Torres’s case, her doctor believes it was triggered by a medication she had recently received.
Through 70% of those who develop GBS are expected to fully recover, the road to recovery requires a lot of patience.
Torres still experiences pain and is slowly adding to the distance she can walk without a cane.
“This experience was an eye-opener for me. It really made me appreciate healthcare professionals because at one point I was not able to shower myself. I was not able to feed myself,” said Torres. “They are the backbone of everything when something bad happens to us. And I definitely would not have been able to get through this without the support of my family and my friends and my coworkers…they were there for me the whole time and I cannot thank anybody enough.”
“GBS is short for Guillain-Barré Syndrome but it’s also short for ‘getting better slowly’ which is a lot of the motivation that I need right.”
May is international GBS Awareness Month, you can find more information on the disorder here.