This past May, 28-year-old Branden Billings of Ishpeming was diagnosed with Guillan-Barre Syndrome, a rare neurological disorder that can lead to paralysis. It took only three days for him to be confined to a wheelchair, but his recovery is going well and he is working to spread awareness of his condition.Branden Billings was driving home from his first day at work when he noticed his fingers and toes were going numb. It was the start of a major turning point in his life. Billings was stricken with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a disorder that has no known cause 60 percent of the time. It is the most common form of non-trauma-related paralysis in the world. It is rarely fatal but can debilitate even the healthiest of people very quickly."The next day, I woke up, I had to hold onto stuff to walk, so it progressed extremely fast," said Billings.The syndrome starts in the extremities and works its way to the torso. Within two days of first noticing the symptoms, Billings couldn't walk up stairs or out of his own house. On the third day, he was admitted to Marquette General Hospital's intensive care unit."I went from running around, just living a normal life, to being paralyzed from the waist down," Billings said.By the time Billings had received treatments that slowed down the progression, he was paralyzed from the neck down and couldn't breathe on his own. He spent months in MGH and the Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Center in Grand Rapids, with his family and girlfriend always by his side."I stayed with him in the hospital most of the time. Sometimes it's hard to remember how sick he actually was, looking back at pictures," said Karly Keller, Billings' girlfriend.For months, Billings had difficulty with the simplest of tasks, but now he is nearly independent. He now undergoes therapy with U.P. Rehab Services in Marquette three times a week to restore his muscles."The goal is to increase Branden's strength and endurance so that he can go back to work because that's his goal. So we work toward what he wants to do," said occupational therapist, Audrey Siders with U.P. Rehab Services."My ankles are still really tight. My toes still, from the Guillain-Barre Syndrome, are numb. They have a shooting pain," Billings said.Guillain-Barre Syndrome strikes only about 1 in 100,000 people. Billings has organized a benefit for Saturday, November 24, at Flanigan's Bar in Marquette from 1 to 6 p.m.Normal treatment periods last about six months to a year. Billings still battles fatigue after a few hours of activity, but he hopes to be back to his old self in a few months. He says he could not have gotten this far without the amazing help he has had from all of his doctors, nurses, friends, and family."It's progressing, it's a good progression. I think I'm way above the curve," Billings said.Billings is now considering going back to school to earn a Master's degree in occupational therapy. He already has Bachelor's degrees in Marketing, Computer Networking, and System Analysis and Design from NMU.
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