These are the frightening symptoms of an extreme case of Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS), which can leave people unable to move. Although no single cause of GBS has been found as yet, it can develop a week or two after a throat or intestinal infection. One recognized cause of GBS is Campylobacter.
A recent study by Otago University has shown that campylobacter poisoning in New Zealand have nearly trebled in the past 15 years to become the highest in the world. The number of reported cases of campylobacter poisoning was 1425 in May alone.
Campylobacter is known to be a bacterium that causes stomach cramps, diarrhoea and fever extending up to a week.
However in about one in every 1000 cases, the disease can develop into GBS that can paralyze patients for months. It is an auto-immune disorder that attacks the nervous system. The initial symptoms like muscle weakness in the face, arms and legs is followed by tingling or numbness that can develop in hours or weeks. Recent figures from Ministry of Health have shown that it affects about 190 New Zealanders a year, from mild to severe cases. A fifth of all cases will be left with a permanent disability. At present in Auckland, there are seven people hospitalized because of this.
GBS struck White in July last year. He ate some reheated lamb shanks that had been in the fridge for several days when his wife and children were out of town. He succumbed to campylobacter poisoning for a week and took time off work as an engineer at Auckland's Alloy Yachts. However when the 43-year-old went back to work, still feeling unwell, he realized something was really wrong.
When he tried to reach up to something on a shelf he realized he couldn't lift his right arm above his head. Very soon he needed two hands to hold a cup of tea because his hands were tingling.
When he woke on July 28, his daughter Jessie's 10th birthday, he found that he couldn't move his arms or legs. A few days later White couldn't breathe and ended up needing a tracheotomy to keep him alive. Unable to swallow, or move his head he remained in hospital for almost 11 months.
White is now back at home, slowly rebuilding his strength. He has been learning to walk and talk again and feeding with the help of his children.