Heisman Trophy winner stricken with rare disorder
June 17th, 2011
11:29 AM ET

Heisman Trophy winner stricken with rare disorder

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."

soundoff (131 Responses)
  1. Ed Ortiz

    You hang in there Danny. I had GBS full blown in 1984. Progressed up to my head before doctor's figured out what was wrong with me. Trouble with me I was in a remote pacific island working. Was 31 years old at the time and a lot of will power to get better. Relocated to mainland and spent two years in recovery. Now leading a normal life with some residual damage, but enjoying life. So will you. Better days ahead.

    June 18, 2011 at 09:00 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jim yadlon

      That. Must have been scary to be so far from home. Good luck to you and stay healthy.

      June 19, 2011 at 09:31 | Report abuse |
  2. Fowler, Margaret

    Danny, hang in there. God has not forgtotten your labor of love that you have shown to His saints. He is still in the healing business. May His everlasting love bless you as you continue in your recovery. I speak HEALING to your body in the Name of Jesus!

    June 18, 2011 at 09:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Jim yadlon

    Hi Danny. Stay strong my friend, you will be ok. I speak from experience. I had GBS in 1973. I was on a respirator for five weeks and I recovered in time. I was totally paraiized. I went on to work in a physically demanding career and my wife and I had three daughters and now four grandchildren. My feet are still partially paralyzed, but I am able to do anything I did before. Contact the GBS support group in Philly and you will get all the info you can use. I will pray for you and your family. Be strong and work hard at your recovery........Jim

    June 19, 2011 at 09:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Jim yadlon

    Have you nothing better to do than say to a sick man something like that. You know nothing about GBS, or probably anything at all. Grow up, please.

    June 19, 2011 at 09:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. cochese

    My brother had GBS... was in the hospital for a week... really scary, he lost the ability to talk for a couple of days.

    June 20, 2011 at 10:50 | Report abuse | Reply
    • debbie

      some lose the ability to breathe or blink

      June 20, 2011 at 12:50 | Report abuse |
  6. debbie

    when I worked in dialysis, we occaisionally did plama pheresis on GBS patients, generally the response was dramatic and quick, I'm not sure why they don't do it that much anymore. It really did cut down time.

    June 20, 2011 at 12:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Johnie 4x2

    Danny, the life you have led will sustain you as you recover. You have done much with your life-you have much more to do. This Gator admires you and is praying for you.

    June 20, 2011 at 15:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Cat

    I had GBS when I was 19. It started in my hands and feet at the same time. The doctor I went to did not believe me at first. He felt I was too young to have these symptoms. I had a hard time swallowing and had to have PT for several months. I then found out I had gotten pregnant at the early onset of GBS. Thankfully, she was ok, considering I was skin and bones during that time. It was terrible!! I still have some recurring tingling and numbness.

    June 20, 2011 at 18:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Abel Mouser

    I am still recovering from GBS, and the biggest thing that upsets me is that people who have never heard of GBS don't believe that I could be that bad off. Although I am not paralyzed anymore and I can get around with the aid of a cane, it doesn't mean that I am 100% better...don't know if I'll ever be. There should be more exposure to this terrible syndrome, and unfortunately for those like Danny, it actually takes famous people to bring this into the limelight. Thousands of people suffer from GBS, yet no one seems to know what it is.

    June 24, 2011 at 12:39 | Report abuse | Reply
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