Image of Shira with dog
Shira Embleton is thrilled to be back in the comfort of her own home, with her puppy, Kingsley, after recovering from full-body paralysis caused by Guillain-Barre Syndrome that began last April. (Photo: Shira Embleton)

Shira Embleton, an active 66-year-old from Scarborough, was going through her morning routine before heading to work in April when her hands felt numb, her back felt tingly and her legs felt like they wouldn't support her.

She was soon diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a rare neurological disorder in which the body's immune system attacks the nerves, causing progressive paralysis starting from the feet and taking over the rest of the body. After treatment at a community hospital, Shira was transferred to a nursing home.

"I'm a very active person who exercises regularly and eats well – so not being able to do any of those things – let alone walk on my own – was heartbreaking," says Shira.

The tingling sensations in her body quickly spread, soon paralyzing her entire body. In a matter of weeks, she had completely lost all of her mobility, unable to do anything for herself.

But Shira was determined to get better. She was transferred to Toronto Rehab's Bickle Centre for Complex Continuing Care in August to regain her strength, movement and independence.

Her goal was to walk out of the hospital two weeks before Christmas so she could celebrate her recovery with her family.

"My family thought I was going to die," says Shira.  "But I said, 'I will be home for Christmas.'"

'This is not the end, it's the beginning'

When Shira first came to Toronto Rehab, she depended on the nursing staff for all of her needs, and they took the time to understand what was important to her. For example, they suggested re-learning make-up application as part of her therapy.

"We understood that these daily tasks represented Shira's independence – so helping her put on make-up and blush made her feel like herself again," says Beatrice Anderson, Shira's nurse at Bickle Centre. "Sometimes it's the little things that make the biggest difference."

"Our team kept reinforcing that this was not the end, but the beginning of her recovery."

Image of Shira and Beatrice sitting
Shira was grateful for the inter-professional team at Bickle Centre that helped her regain her strength and mobility so she could return home for the holidays. (Photo: UHN)

'The nursing staff were my best friends'

 "I remember crying, sitting in the doorway of my room," says Shira. "The nurse put me back in my bed, held my hand, listened to me and encouraged me not to give up hope."

"The nursing staff were my best friends. They know everything about you."

Bickle Centre's inter-professional team works collaboratively to help patients recover strength and mobility, manage their complex diseases to improve overall well-being and restore their independence.

"In addition to the clinical expertise each inter-professional team member contributes during collaborative discussions or sessions involving patient care, there is also great passion and enthusiasm that drives each member of the team," says Veroneike Buntin, Manager on the South 4 Unit at Bickle Centre where Shira received complex care.

"This, combined with the dedication patients commit to their recovery, is a great recipe for success."

Through her nursing care, physiotherapy, and occupational therapy, Shira has regained most of her function and is able to walk again and use her hands.

Shira made it home to celebrate Christmas with her family and was thrilled to kick off the New Year in the comfort of her own bed.  

"It's better than winning the lottery – I can walk again!" says Shira.

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