June 17th, 2011
11:29 AM ET
Danny Wuerffel, the 1996 Heisman Trophy winner who led the University of Florida to a college football national championship that season, has been diagnosed with a rare immune disorder that attacks the nervous system.
The Desire Street Ministry, where the former quarterback serves as an executive director, released a statement that Wuerffel was diagnosed with “Guillain Barre Syndrome (GBS), which he recently contracted as a result of a stomach virus.”
In about 60% of cases the immune system reaction occurs after a lung or digestive tract infection, according to the Mayo Clinic.
After a viral infection, the body generates an immune response against the infection. With Guillain Barre Syndrome, the immune response spills over to the peripheral nerves and starts attacking them, said Dr. Eric Logigian, professor of neurology at University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry. It damages the nerves’ protective covering, called the myelin sheath, causing weakness.
Wuerffel is receiving medical care and expected to recover.
The first signs of the disorder begin with tingling and weakness in the legs which spreads to the upper body. As the disorder progresses, muscle weakness can evolve into paralysis.
“Fortunately, an early diagnosis identified the disease, permitting swift medical treatment,” said Luder Whitlock, board chair of Desire Street Ministries in a statement.
“Consequently, his GBS specialist expects a full recovery. Meanwhile, Danny has asked me to express his appreciation for the prayers, love and support he has received during this time.”
It’s unknown why some people are affected by Guillain Barre. It can affect people of all ages.
“Patients generally will decline neurologically over two to four weeks, then stabilize,” said Logigian, who treats patients with the syndrome.
After about four weeks, the nerves repair themselves, but the damage during that immune response could be severe and could cause in dire cases, paralysis.
The first signs of the disorder begin with tingling and weakness in the legs which spread to the upper body. As the disorder progresses, muscle weakness can evolve into paralysis.
The New York Times reported that Wuerffel has been receiving treatment since last week. He has been able to stand, despite weakness in his legs, according to the paper.
Wuerffel, 37, spent five years in the NFL that ended with the Washington Redskins in 2002. He along with former Florida coach Steve Spurrier and former quarterback Tim Tebow are immortalized in statues at the University of Florida.
Wuerffel told the Times it could be another month before he returns to Desire Street Ministries.
Meanwhile, words of encouragement poured into his ministry’s Facebook page.
One person wrote: “If u can survive those late FSU hits, this will be a walk in the park. Still the best gator qb ever, Danny, the best in NCAA history. And best Heisman speech. Get well soon. Thanks for all u do, sir.”
Another wrote: "Hang in there Danny! Of course we've never met but I'm an 8-year survivor of GBS (which struck me at the age of 23) and I'm pretty much fully recovered now so trust that you can make it through this ordeal."
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