From the moment Kara Dunn stepped off the plane, she had blurry vision and trouble moving her face.
The 20-year-old from Tempe, Arizona, had arrived in Spain for what was meant to be a six-week vacation traveling to various European countries with a friend.
But after just one day in Barcelona, she was struggling to swallow so she went to the hospital, where she was checked but doctors were unsure of what was wrong.
Her symptoms only worsened. Both her hands and feet grew numb, and she was admitted to the hospital – this time rushed into intensive care.
Doctors diagnosed Dunn with Guillain-Barré syndrome, a rare disorder in which the immune system attacks your peripheral nervous system, paralyzing parts of or – in some cases – your whole body.
Her brother, Ryan, spoke exclusively to Daily Mail Online about how a medical jet to transport Dunn home so she can begin a long journey of physical therapy will cost around $200,000 – something insurance is not willing to cover.
Kara Dunn, 20, from Tempe, Arizona, was left paralyzed last week while on vacation in Spain. Pictured: Kara with her mother in the hospital on Tuesday
From the moment Dunn (left and right) stepped off the plane, she was having blurry vision and trouble moving her face. This soon progressed to having trouble breathing and losing feeling in her hands and her feet
Dunn (pictured) was diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome, in which the immune system attacks your peripheral nervous system, paralyzing parts of or – in some cases – your whole body
Guillain-Barré syndrome is often preceded by an infectious illness such as a respiratory infection or the stomach flu.
It’s a rare syndrome, affecting about one in 100,000 people and fewer than 20,000 cases per year, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
After the first symptoms of Guillain-Barré syndrome, sufferers’ conditions usually worsen for about two weeks before plateauing around the four-week mark.
WHAT IS GUILLAIN-BARRÉ SYNDROME?
Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) is a disorder in which your body’s immune system attacks your peripheral nervous system.
Weakness and tingling in the extremities are the first symptoms. These sensations can quickly spread, eventually paralyzing your whole body.
The exact cause of GBS is unknown. The disorder usually appears days or weeks after a respiratory or digestive tract infection.
GBS is rare with between 3,000 and 6,000 developing the disease every year in the US, according to the CDC.
Signs and symptoms:
- Prickling or tingling sensations in your fingers, toes, ankles or wrists
- Weakness in your legs that spreads to your upper body
- Unsteady walking or inability to walk or climb stairs
- Difficulty with eye or facial movements, including speaking, chewing or swallowing
- Difficulty breathing
- Rapid heart rate
- Low or high blood pressure
There is no cure for GBS but treatment can reduce the disease’s severity and speed recovery.
1) Plasma exchange: Plasma, part of your blood, is separated from the red blood cells. The red blood cells are then put back into your body to rid the plasma of harmful antibodies
2) Intravenous Immunoglobulin Therapy: Immunoglobulin containing healthy antibodies from blood donors is given through a vein and blocks harmful antibodies from contributing to damage
Recovery can take months or even years but sufferers generally experience this timeline:
- After the first signs and symptoms, the condition progressively worsens for about two weeks
- Symptoms reach a plateau within four weeks
- Recovery usually lasts between six to 12 months, though it can take longer
Source: Mayo Clinic
And that was the case for Dunn, according to her brother, Ryan.
He told Daily Mail Online that within hours she was in the ICU and then intubated for severe pneumonia.
He and their mother, Dawn, both traveled to Spain to support Dunn by her bedside.
The recovery period can last as little as a few weeks and as long as a few years, but about 30 percent of those diagnosed have a residual weakness after three years.
Most who have Guillain-Barré syndrome make full recoveries, but some are left with tingling sensations in the arms and legs
Since Dunn first entered the hospital, Ryan says her condition has slowly been improving.
‘After I got there she was under lighter sedation and her pneumonia was mostly resolved,’ he told Daily Mail Online.
‘She then was able to nod her head “yes” and shake her head “no” to question, which she doesn’t remember because she was sedated.’
Dunn’s breathing tube has since been removed and she’s gradually been able to start talking again, although Ryan says her speech is slurred, she speaks one sentence at a time, and has trouble controlling the volume of her voice.
She’s also regained movement in her upper arms and forearms and has feeling in her hands, but her legs are completely numb – she is paralyzed from the waist down.
Dunn’s first step in treatment has been to receive Intravenous Immunoglobulin Therapy (IVIG).
When you have Guillain-Barré syndrome, the immune system produces harmful antibodies that attack the nerves.
IVIG is a treatment made from donated blood that contains healthy antibodies to block the harmful ones from continuing their damage.
Once she returns home, Dunn will receive a combination of physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy.
Doctors in Spain are waiting until Dunn is breathing completely on her own before sending her home so she will be stronger and will be less likely to have complications mid-air.
But it’s a waiting game. A medical jet to transport her home will cost $200,000 alone – not including the months of therapy she will receive.
Ryan says her primary insurance will not cover the cost and they’re currently not sure if her traveler’s insurance will help cover the cost.
Dunn’s brother Ryan said that she has since regained movement in her arms and can start speaking again but is still paralyzed from the waist down. She faces months of physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy upon arriving home. Pictured: Dunn with her brother, Ryan, left, and with her father, right
A medical jet to transport Dunn (pictured, with her family) home will cost $200,000 alone, which her primary insurance is not willing to pay
Ryan says that Dunn (center, with her brothers) is studying to be a doctor who treats autoimmune diseases – and notes the irony that she is suffering from the very thing she wants to help treat
A GoFundMe account has been set up to help pay for the flight back to the US; medical expenses; physical therapy; and transportation and housing for Dunn’s family.
So far more than $40,200 has been raised out of a $50,000 goal.
Ryan says that Dunn is studying to be a doctor – in fact, one who treats people with autoimmune diseases – and notes the irony that she is suffering from the very thing she wants to help treat.
‘It’s strange that Kara has been affected by this when her dream is to help people with this condition,’ he said.
‘But I hope people know that by helping her, they will also be helping her future patients.’