Surviving Guillain-Barre Syndrome

An active patient overcomes rare auto-immune disease with help from Inova Rehabilitation Center

Juan Ochoa thrived on an active lifestyle — running five miles several times per week, playing squash and helping others achieve their fitness goals as a personal trainer.

Then, in September 2011, he was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS), a rare autoimmune disease that attacks the covering (myelin sheath) of nerves throughout the body. Symptoms of GBS include numbness of the face or extremities, muscle weakness and trouble speaking.

Ochoa was hospitalized and given treatments aimed at removing harmful antibodies from his system. However, his condition worsened. His lungs weakened and paralysis progressed to the point that he could move only his head for a period of three months.

Slowly, he regained movement, first in his right hand and fingers. In time, he transitioned to Inova Rehabilitation Center (IRC) at Inova Mount Vernon Hospital. Both as an inpatient and outpatient, he worked on restoring strength and balance, transitioning safely and walking with the aid of a walker. He credits his doctors and therapists at IRC not only with helping him recover but also with helping him remain optimistic. “In my opinion, what I experienced was a great staff. It was a pretty sad thing I was going through but they always made me feel comfortable. Nothing was boring to me.”

Today, he is walking two miles, playing soccer and hitting the gym, where he bench-presses 185 pounds. Though he still experiences numbness when he is tired, Ochoa maintains a positive outlook and hopes his experience can serve as encouragement to others. “It is not easy to survive this kind of illness but you can do it,” he says. “You have to encourage  yourself and keep trying.”

Rehab to Life

Learn more about the Inova Rehabilitation Center at www.inova.org/rehab-center