By Alyce Collins
THIS CROSSFIT lover became paralysed after having the FLU JAB, leaving her in INTENSIVE CARE before learning to walk again, but doctors warned that if her lungs weren’t as strong, they would have shut down.
Substitute teacher, Amaris Carlin (27) from New York, USA, began training in CrossFit in July 2014 and soon fell in love with the challenge of making her body stronger. Amaris went from deadlifting 10kg to being able to lift 90kg as she continuously trained.
In September 2017 Amaris had a flu jab after it was offered at her work. Eight hours later, she noticed that she had lost the feeling in one of her legs. Not wanting to panic, Amaris went to an urgent care centre where tests showed a notable loss of sensation in both legs. From there, Amaris was sent to the hospital but was turned away because they assumed she had pinched a nerve from CrossFit.
When she returned home after being turned away, Amaris became increasingly tired and weaker by the day. Three days after being turned away from hospital, Amaris couldn’t even walk to her car and had to be carried by colleagues.
It took doctors a few days to diagnose Amaris’ condition, but they ruled that Amaris was suffering from Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS) as a result of the flu shot. GBS was the body’s way of fighting off the virus by attacking muscle and tissue within, leaving her paralysed from the waist down.
Shortly after being admitted into hospital, Amaris was transferred to the ICU because she was having trouble breathing and needed to be put on an oxygen machine. Doctors began an IVIG treatment to stop GBS progressing further, as Amaris started having double vision after the muscles in her eyes became weak.
Amaris spent nine days in the ICU, but doctors said that if she had weaker lungs, GBS would have shut her lungs down. At her worst, Amaris was experiencing a quarter of her usual lung function.
“I started CrossFit in July 2014 and immediately fell in love with it,” said Amaris.
“I sucked at basically everything and I couldn’t do a single pull-up. But over the years, CrossFit became a sort of obsession.
“Previous to my reaction to the flu shot in 2017, I had only had the flu shot once, eight years before.
“I had the flu shot in the morning when it was offered at work. Eight hours later, I realised that I couldn’t feel one of my legs. I didn’t want to panic so I went to urgent care.
“They did a test and found that I had lost a notable amount of sensation in both legs, so they sent me to the Emergency Room. Although I was turned away because they believed there was no way GBS could come on so fast. They assumed I had a pinched nerve from CrossFit.
“I had numbness and tingling in my hands, feet, and legs and there was also notable loss of sensation. I started out feeling somewhat fatigued. This turned into extreme weakness after three days.
“I could barely walk to my car, so my co-workers had to carry me and drive me to the hospital. When I was in the ICU, I also started having double vision issues as the muscles in my eyes got weaker.
“It took doctors a long time to diagnose me and there was actually some back and forth trying to decide if it was Transverse Myelitis or GBS. The most recent consensus was that it was an unusual form of GBS, potentially a strange presentation because I was previously an athlete.
“I initially received five IVIG treatments which helped the GBS to plateau and I was put on oxygen because I was having laboured breathing.
“I started out with very strong lungs but at the worst, I had about 25 per cent of my normal function. They said if I was a smoker or had weaker lungs, I wouldn’t have been able to breathe at all.
“Though I required oxygen for a few days, I was able to maintain my oxygen levels independently – it felt like I was in the middle of a really intense workout all the time. It was exhausting and very challenging to breathe, but I was very determined not to be intubated.
“It was long and there were so many ups and downs, tears, and struggles, but also so much self-improvement and hope. I was very determined at first to gain back what I had lost athletically despite being in and out of a wheelchair a lot.
“However, it soon became clear that though I progressed fast, any sickness or stress would leave me bedridden for weeks. I learned this lesson the hard way as my second relapse was right before Christmas.”
Amaris was treated for GBS relatively quickly, which has helped her recovery. However, she lost a great deal of her athletic ability as she spent seven weeks in a wheelchair. Life was increasingly challenging, to the point where brushing her teeth was a challenge.
Due to ill health, Amaris relapsed a few times during her recovery and suffered short bouts of GBS. In January 2018 Amaris was forced to move back into her family’s home to get the help she required.
“I was treated for GBS very fast which may have prevented a worse outcome. Though I was very lucky as it could have been much worse, I was devastated. Not only did I lose my athletic ability, I struggled with simple tasks such as brushing my teeth by myself,” said Amaris.
“Because of my continued struggles and being wheelchair-bound again after a relapse, I was no longer able to live with my housemates who had to work during the day and couldn’t look out for me. I moved back to live with family in January 2018 and started to heal so I needed my wheelchair less, until I somehow got the actual flu in February.
“Because my body was already neurologically compromised, the flu caused the paralysis to return slowly and I found myself in the hospital for another two weeks and back in rehab learning how to walk all over again.
“During that time, I had some doubts, wondering if I would ever get better. But one thing had changed: I decided that I wanted to help other people like myself. I decided to go back to school to become a Doctor of Physical Therapy.
“Now, about 18 months later, I am finally functioning like an average person. I’m currently in school full time and can’t wait for a future helping people learn how to walk again.
“I don’t take life for granted any more. My life has so much more focus and passion, because it’s not worth it to be stuck in a rut just living for whatever fun you can have on the weekend. I wake up each day, excited about what’s going to happen.
“I do get some annoying heat sensitivity and my feet get numb and prickly in the morning. I also have to work hard to maintain my weight. Sure, I’m not 100 per cent, and I’m nowhere near my previous athletic level, but I’m happier.
“To all those out there going through tough times, it might feel like you will never be able to get out of the place you are in or maybe it will take much longer than you think. What matters is that you keep going when it’s hard and you don’t want to. Your life means something, even if you can’t possibly imagine what.”
You can follow Amaris’ recovery by visiting @amariscarlin.