Lift to Live

TAGS: Rehab After the Rehab, Paige, Guillian Barre Syndrome, determination, Jeff Guller, rehab, recovery

Struggling to keep her shoulders pressed to the bench, Paige locks out the 75-pound barbell. On the second rep, the bar tracks out of the groove, and I have to gently direct it in order to keep it from falling towards her face. She completes the second rep and goes on to do a very shaky triple.

While this may not seem like an impressive accomplishment, at least on a powerlifting website, Paige has far different goals than most of our readers here...

Paige has Guillian Barre Syndrome, and she is battling the gradual breakdown of her central nervous system. So, while you and I take pride in crushing PRs in the gym, Paige's primary goal is to fight the degradation of her neural pathways and the associated loss of muscle tissue. She fights for the ability to perform typical day-to-day activities.

I know Paige well. In fact, I am married to her mother. I first met Paige when she was an 18-year-old high school graduate. At that time, she was more concerned with skipping school and hanging out with her friends than about graduating. But graduate she did! She was bright, and she was a very good athlete, especially at track. For a short period, she languished about; however, she soon decided on a career in law enforcement. She married a law enforcement officer and is now a 47-year-old mother to a pair of 17-year-old twins, a boy and a girl.

Unfortunately, however, she had a severe accident about 10 years ago at work that rendered her unable to perform her duties as a law enforcement officer, and she was forced to take early retirement.

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In early June of 2011, Paige and her family went to see her sister, Meredith, and her family in Wrightsville Beach, NC. One morning while she was there, she awoke and could not move. She could not move anything at all! Her family immediately took her to the hospital and examined her from head to toe. Initially, her doctors found nothing. All of the tests produced normal results, so much so that it was thought it might be psychosomatic. However, one last test was performed—a spinal tap. It showed evidence of Guillian Barre Syndrome, an insidious, rare disease that occurs once in 100,000 people. It is a disease that leads to the gradual breakdown of the central nervous system. It manifests itself in complete or partial paralysis of its victims. There can be a complete recovery, partial recovery, or no recovery...which proves fatal. The medical community, despite some theories, knows no cause. Likewise, it knows no cure except to treat the symptoms.

At first, Paige was given massive doses of antibiotics and was kept in Wilmington about a week. Unfortunately, however, she showed very little progress and was soon transported to a rehab hospital in Charlotte, where she stayed for many months. She received daily physical therapy, occupational therapy, vocational therapy, and all of the other damn therapies they offered. They kept her for as long as they could (and a little longer under the provisions of the insurance policy), and she began to improve—slowly but surely. By the time she had to go home, she had movement of her arms and upper body. She was still paralyzed from the waist down, however, and went home in a wheel chair.

Paige came back to a bustling home. A home with teenagers going in different directions, a husband with a very responsible full-time job, and a mother who could do nothing for herself. That would test the mettle of a family and each individual in it. But everyone stepped up and through tears, prayers, grit, and determination, they are getting through it.

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When I last wrote about Paige she was still in physical therapy as an outpatient. With the aid of some special boots, she was able to stand. Then she was able to take a step...then two steps. Thereafter, she began to walk a little. Again, however, the insurance stopped further rehab therapy. All too often this is the case. While Paige was still fortunate to get some very extensive care, it was not enough. Hip replacement and knee replacement patients get three visits from a physical therapist. Open heart surgery patients get one or two visits from a physical therapist and about five from a nurse—that's it. It is not enough!

A month ago, Paige told me that she had joined a commercial gym with a friend of hers. I asked what she was doing, but she didn't really know except for walking on a treadmill. I offered to help, and in a week the three of us hooked up. Paige could walk and appeared fine. However, she fell too often and had little confidence and a serious strength issue. So we began by walking together at first, and I encouraged her to walk more slowly and take smaller steps. Then, we began a one-arm dumbbell carry. We walked the length of the gym, changed hands, and came back. We now do this before every session. We also borrowed another of Brian Carroll's warm-ups: the bird dog. We do planks during each session. Our program is a slight variation of the rehab program I wrote for the elitefts™ MAW book. I, however, cannot take credit for it. It is Mark Rippatoe's 5 sets of 5 from Starting Strength. We also use the powerlifting lifts plus the overhead press as set out in Jim Wendler's 5/3/1. We use all of the exercises each session. Once the ladies reach a level of competence in each of the lifts, we will start a different program. For now, though, it's only the basics.

In addition to balance and confidence problems, Paige had an alarming lack of strength—an understandable but concerning problem. A body weight squat was very challenging, but we gradually used dumbbells of increasing weight in her hands. Now, we are using the squat rack (when some SOB isn't using it for curls). Right now, Paige is doing box squats with the bar and some weight, and we will be adding more weight each week. Similarly, we are making progress in all of the other lifts as well. I don't know why, but our best progress and heaviest weight is the deadlift.

We are going to keep on moving forward. The ladies have said they are all in. They come regularly and work hard, and I am very proud that real progress is being made. Paige reports that she feels strong(her)™, her balance is better, and her confidence is restored. Better yet, she can't remember when she last fell. In fact, on a recent trip to Disney World with her family, she walked the whole damn place without any issues. I am proud of her efforts than I can ever say. She has been through hell and back and still comes to the gym, works hard, and inspires us all.

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