A young woman says stress caused her to develop a condition that left her paralysed from the neck down, leaving her in a nursing home for nearly three months.
Courtney Runyon, 35, originally from Dallas in the USA, struggled to let go of a busy life of travelling and fitness after she began to lose feeling in her arms and legs.
She continued her job in Las Vegas for six months whilst losing more feeling in her limbs, despite being on the road travelling through different states every week for work.
Doctors in Nevada kept testing her for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and multiple sclerosis (MS) without a diagnosis, so she decided to see a specialist five hours away in Arizona.
“I was telling the Las Vegas doctors, ‘you don’t understand, every day I lift my arms up from my side, I can visibly see myself lifting my arm up less and less,” she said.
It was at The Mayo Clinic where Ms Runyon received the news that she had chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy (CIDP).
“It was sort of a relief to be diagnosed with CIDP because at that point it was narrowed down to three neurological-related illnesses. ALS, with which you can die in two to ten years and Lyme disease where it’s so unpredictable and difficult to put into remission. CIDP was the least severe of the three,” she recalled.
CIDP is the chronic form of Guillain-Barre syndrome. Patients suffer from nerve inflammation and their immune system attacks their peripheral nerves in their face, arms, legs, throat, internal organs, and skin.
“For me it was triggered by two stressful weeks in December 2016 and I started to show symptoms two weeks later in February of 2017.
“One of the first things that I really had problems with was having a shower. I couldn’t lift my hands all the way up to my head so I would bend over to wash my hair but when I’d get out, the towel was way too heavy so my ex-boyfriend would have to dry me off.
It continued to get worse as she watched on in horror as her motor skills began completely forsaking her.
“Two weeks later I went on disability because I couldn’t speak. You had to be right next to me because it sounded like a scratchy whisper.
“I still thought it was just one of those things I thought would go away and get better, but I would go through all my testing and go on an autoimmune protocol diet for sixty days,” she said.
“I was thinking I was doing everything I needed to do. You just don’t think that you are going to become one of those people that this happens to.”
A move home brings new hope
Chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy affects one to eight of every 100,000 people.
The immune system is thought to cause damage to the myelin sheath of the peripheral nervous system, often affecting the arms and legs first.
While Courtney thought she had hit rock bottom, the worst was yet to come.
“I couldn’t close my throat all the way so when I drank liquids, I choked on them. They would just leak in my windpipes,” she said.
“What sucked more was I couldn’t flex my stomach to cough it out so I would just be breathing the liquids without being able to cough them out and I couldn’t sneeze either. It was not my best look.”
The day after Thanksgiving in November 2017, she was discharged from the nursing home she was staying in because her insurance would no longer cover it.
Ms Runyon soon moved back in with her parents Renee and Bob in time for Christmas.
Just days before Christmas in 2017, something incredible happened as she felt some movement in her nerves again.
“My family is amazing they were so supportive, loving and relaxing, I should’ve gone there sooner, it was all so wonderful.
“I love the phrase, ‘you can’t heal in the same environment that made you sick’. I had to leave Las Vegas - it was crazy there. I quit my job. I loved my ex-boyfriend, but he wasn’t helping at the time.
“If there are things that are stressing you out, you’re not going to get well in the way you want to until you get rid of them.”
Despite being unable to buckle a seatbelt or put on shoes and struggling to carry a backpack – Courtney decided to go travelling in early 2019.
Her recovery has been amazing, going from being quadriplegic to being able to hike Camino de Santiago in Spain. And as he body continued to mend, she has more travel plans waiting in the wings, she says.
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