Former Chicago Bears defensive lineman William “The Refrigerator” Perry was admitted to a South Carolina hospital in serious condition with Guillain-Barre Syndrome. Perry was a 300-pound plus defensive tackle for the Chicago Bears’ 1985 Super Bowl team who became famous when coach Mike Ditka used him as a defensive fullback on goal-line plays. Perry crashed into the end zone for a touchdown in the Bears’ victory over the New England Patriots in the 1986 Super Bowl.
Guillian-Barre Syndrome (GBS) is a disease where the body’s immune system turns against the nervous system. Specifically, the immune system attacks the coating around nerve cells (myelin) that allows them to transmit messages from the brain to the rest of the body.
It is unknown what causes GBS, but it is frequently preceded by a relatively mild viral illness, which in some way, may trigger the immune system to react in an abnormal way. Initial symptoms include muscle weakness and tingling in the legs. Weakness can progress up the body, and in severe cases, can cause complete paralysis. If the paralysis includes the breathing muscles, this is a medical emergency, and a patient must be put on a respirator. Fortunately, the process is usually self-limited, and with support, the symptoms gradually resolve, although some mild weakness may remain.
Although there is no known cure for GBS, there are a couple of treatments that may lessen the symptoms or clear them up more quickly. One of these is called plasmapheresis. The blood is removed from the body, filtered to remove harmful autoantibodies, and returned to the body). The other is called high dose immunoglobulin therapy, where a patient receives an injection of healthy antibodies pooled from a large number of donors. These antibodies block the harmful antibodies of GBS. However, the most critical part of treatment in all GBS patients is providing supportive care to keep the body functioning during the illness.