On February 11, 2019, Tyhria “Ty” Williams was getting ready for her shift at the Rescue Mission’s Charis House, a shelter for women and children who’ve experienced homelessness, when the rare Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) hit her.
GBS is an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system attacks healthy nerve cells, leading to weakness, numbness, and paralysis. Williams got hit with all of those. “We all have a covering on our nerves,” she said, describing a healthy situation, “but mine were stripped bare. I was paralyzed within minutes.”
The disease looks like a stroke; right now, Williams’ mega-watt smile strains to be seen…that one side of her face doesn’t want to act right. She walks slow, amazingly aware of her each step, because she has to make sure her feet hit their mark without tripping. She graduated from a walker to a cane…that she doesn’t like to use. So she walks slow.
Compounding the misery, GBS inflames and restricts; if you have it and you get angry or too frustrated, which can happen just like that, it can squeeze your lungs, suffocating you. One has to take muscle relaxers, which is a little dicey in her situation.
Williams is a recovering addict so “I have to watch what I take.” She was featured in a 2018 issue of the FWIS, in a story about her recovery from drug and alcohol abuse. She chronicled her journey in her self-published book, “Pure Gold: Processed in the Fire.”
Wary of even the slightest relapse, she took the lowest dose of one pill. It made her drowsy. “Only an addict would want to function with that feeling,” Williams said. She had a friend sit with her while she took it.
Another time, they gave her some Benadryl, “which will knock you out,” she said, and her knees started to buckle. It wasn’t from the medicine; it was her GBS.
According to research from the CDC, in the United States, an estimated 3,000 to 6,000 people develop GBS each year on average, whether or not they received a vaccination. This is about 1 to 2 cases of GBS per 100,000 people. Males are slightly more likely to contract GBS…more rare for Williams to get it. (After a cursory web search, numbers pertaining to African-American cases couldn’t be found, so it might not have a racial predilection.)
Her doctors still don’t know where it came from. GBS, once treated, can be excised forever.
It was first diagnosed after a lumbar puncture, and the fluid extracted from her spine yielded a high concentration of protein. “I thought it was a food allergy, because I had a Vicks-type taste in my mouth,” Williams said; the sensation was a chemical release from her brain because of the GBS.
A month stay at the hospital included a stint in the ICU for five days. The progress she made, with the help of the IV infusions, gave her a false sense of security and progress. She didn’t take to her therapy like a good student; when she got back home, in the bathroom, she fell flat on her face, paralyzed once again. Her daughter, on her way to school that morning, rescued her.
A not-safe-in-her-own-home reality set in real quick. “What would happen if somebody broke in my house? What would happen if a fire broke out?” she asked. Second time around in therapy, she was not playing. “This time, I was looking for the therapist,” Williams said, “I was like, you’re late, come on.”
Williams’ therapy included throwing balls and standing, “which was difficult,” she said. Her legs are not all-the-way back; all of her nerves haven’t completely rejuvenated yet. “The problem I have today is picking up things,” she said. And…stairs. She’s back at Charis House but she isn’t allowed to walk the stairs. She’s used to forward motion and blur-running around town, hitting errands, seeing people…living that active life. She holds onto something now when she walks; she fights back that feeling of being invaluable. “I will recover. It’s just a process,” Williams said.
She’s working on her next book for a summer release but doesn’t know if the incident…she calls the GBS an incident…will make the cut. It’s not close to a book subject; it’s maybe a chapter, or possibly a paragraph, somewhere at the beginning.
I run Scrambled Egg(s) Design and Productions, based out of Northeast Indiana. In addition to producing in-house company projects, I also create advertising materials for companies and organizations, with an emphasis on interactivity.