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Ex-Quarterback Danny Wuerffel Diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome

Danny Wuerffel Heisman Trophy

Imagine the toll that a stomach virus takes on you. Now imagine it’s nearly 2 weeks later, but you still have about half the strength you normally have and you are losing sensation in your legs and arms. That is what is happening to Heisman Trophy winner Danny Wuerffel after being diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome.

“He’s hanging in there,” says Danny’s wife Jessica to ABC News. “It’s a distressing situation but, to be honest, his faith is strong.
Wuerffel, who played college football for the Florida Gators, won the Heisman in 1996 and drafted by the New Orleans Saints in 1997, is now retired from football and lives in Decatur, Georgia where he is Executive Director of Desire Street Ministries, a Christian ministry that transforms impoverished neighborhoods through spiritual and community development.

Guillain-Barre Syndrome is an autoimmune disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks part of the peripheral nervous system. It is usually triggered by a viral or bacterial infection, or other stressful event such as surgery or a vaccination. It is not contagious. The first symptoms, as in Wuerffel’s case, are weakness and tingling sensations in the legs. In many cases, the abnormal sensations spread to the arms and upper body. Most patients reach their weakest point within two to four weeks after the symptoms first appear.

The disease can progress in intensity to the point where a patient is almost totally paralyzed. Some patients must rely in a respirator to breathe. Jessica says that Danny is not paralyzed, but has been advised by his doctors to remain immobile during his recovery.

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GBS is rare, affecting about one in 100,000 people. It is unclear why the condition strikes some people and not others or what sets the syndrome in motion. Thankfully, most people recover from even those most severe cases of the syndrome, although some (about 30%) continue to have some degree of weakness.

There is no known cure for Guillain-Barre Syndrome, but certain therapies can lessen the severity of the illness and accelerate recovery. These include plasmapheresis and high-dose immunoglobulin therapy which aim to rid the body of the antibodies that are attacking the nerves and replace them with healthy donor antibodies. Current research is looking at ways to prevent the disorder and to make better therapies available when it strikes.

Desire Street Ministries Board chair, Luder Whitlock, reported that, “Fortunately, an early diagnosis identified the disease, permitting swift medical treatment. Consequently, his GBS specialist expects a full recovery. Meanwhile, Danny has asked me to express his appreciation for the prayers, love and support he has received during this time.”

Periodic progress reports will be posted on his message page at www.desirestreet.org and on Facebook (www.facebook.com/desirestreet). Danny requests that any cards or gifts of encouragement be made to Desire Street Ministries rather than to him personally.

Image by: Jamie Campbell via Flickr Photo Sharing