Amber's Story

Hope and healing after Guillain-Barre Syndrome

As a mom of four, 37-year-old Amber Horne led a busy, active life with her family in West Virginia. Around New Year’s Day, she started coming down with an upper respiratory tract infection. A doctor’s visit produced a prescription, but no symptom relief.

Amber began to feel even worse. She had significant back pain. Her arms and feet felt numb. On January 9, Amber knew she was in trouble. Her husband drove her to a local hospital’s emergency room, where she was told whatever she had wasn’t serious. Unwilling to accept the brush-off, they drove to a second and third ER. The couple was stunned as staff minimized her symptoms.

Amber and her husband made the life-saving decision to visit a fourth ER. There, a doctor took Amber’s concerns seriously. As she was being admitted, Amber suddenly stopped breathing.

Emergency surgery placed a breathing tube. After a raft of tests, doctors diagnosed strep pneumonia and Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS), a rapid onset autoimmune disorder often affecting the respiratory muscles.

The hospital treated her respiratory failure with antibiotics and mechanical ventilation. To treat GBS, Amber needed seven sessions of plasmapheresis, a process in which a body’s plasma is separated from the blood cells and temporarily replaced with another liquid such as saline. The plasma is medically treated and returned to the patient’s body.

Amber’s case was so severe, she was transferred to the Cleveland Clinic, where she continued to battle complications. She could not liberate from the ventilator and had airway support and a feeding tube placed. The GBS caused her heart rate and blood pressure to fluctuate.

After a month, Amber stabilized. She was out of the woods medically, but a long road to recovery lay ahead. The whole family needed support, so the couple decided it was best to move home to North Carolina, closer to siblings and parents. Miraculously, her husband received a job offer and the move was on.

The family also decided Amber’s best next step was a critical illness recovery hospital, where she would receive intensive medical management in a hospital setting, along with physical, occupational, respiratory and speech therapies.  They chose Select Specialty Hospital – Durham.

On February 4, a specially staffed medical transport brought Amber from Cleveland to Durham. Her family and four children made the move from West Virginia to North Carolina at the same time.

Amber arrived alert and in good spirits. She was thrilled to hug her children, whom she hadn’t seen since she left for Cleveland.  Being able to go home to them, and to her new house, were her main motivators to get well.

A physician-led team of nurses and therapists created a plan to help Amber reach these goals.

Respiratory therapists assessed her and began gradually reducing her ventilator settings. To everyone’s surprise, Amber was more than ready to wean. Within three days, Amber could spend all day off the machine. She also passed a swallow study, confirming she could eat and drink without food or liquid entering her lungs. Within a week, Amber was free of the machine and eating regular meals.

At the same time, physical therapy began a progressive mobility program. She initially sat at the bed’s edge with assistance and moved to sitting independently.  Her nurses helped her relearn personal care tasks and reduce her intravenous pain medication.

The staff worked together to arrange a visit from Amber’s children, which lifted her spirits even further. Within 10 days, Amber could walk more than 300 feet with a walker, and took a real shower with assistance from the therapy team.

On February 21, Amber was ready for the next stage of her recovery. She moved on to an inpatient rehabilitation hospital, where she worked to build strength and stamina through targeted physical and occupational therapies three hours a day. A week later, Amber walked into her new home, ready to start the next chapter of her life in North Carolina.