Haley Holly was a wife and happy new mom caring for her young son when she developed a fever. Like most moms, she soldiered on but noticed the fever wasn’t going away. By day 15, she had pins and needles in her feet and increased fatigue, day 16 brought numbness to both hands and feet and by day 17, her legs were completely numb and her husband was carrying her to where she needed to go as well as caring for their son.
Several online and virtual visits to the ER resulted in a diagnosis of long-haul COVID. When Haley’s arms went numb and she started having swallowing issues, this triggered her husband, Tyler, to drive her to their primary care physician who came out to the car for an evaluation since Haley had lost all mobility. The doctor jotted down notes and gave them to Tyler with instructions to go straight to the ER.
Haley had Guillain-Barré Syndrome, a disorder that causes the body’s immune system to attack its own nerves. This can cause weakness, pain and the inability to control your own muscles.
Doctors began her on intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG) treatments, infusing her body with healthy antibodies in an attempt to stop the progression of the disorder. After two days, Haley’s body was completely paralyzed. Doctors put her on a ventilator and inserted a feeding tube. Sedated but aware, Haley recalled the complete discomfort she endured. “I knew I was in restraints. I was so hot. They couldn’t stop me from sweating. I had ice packs on both sides of my face, my shoulders and tucked into my sides, a wet rag on my face and three fans blowing on me and they couldn’t cool me down,” she said. “I had constant panic attacks.”
Haley spent a month in the ICU before the medical team had halted the progression of the disorder and she could move to long-term care. “I couldn’t talk, I couldn’t move, I couldn’t control anything,” she recalled. She began physical therapy and regained some movement and control of her arms and legs. Her next move was to an inpatient rehabilitation facility where she continued to improve her strength and endurance over the next two weeks. “When I graduated there I was walking with a walker,” she said. “Then I started Day Neuro.”
Haley wanted to continue regaining her independence at Baylor Scott & White Institute for Rehabilitation (BSWIR) – Fort Worth’s Day Neuro Program. It is a comprehensive outpatient program offering focused rehabilitation for people who have had a stroke, a brain injury or other neurological disorders. “I initially didn’t want to come here because it sounded so intense,” she said. “But when the liaison came and talked to me and explained all of the benefits and strengths of the program, I decided to come here because I knew I would progress so much faster.”
The Day Neuro team mapped out a treatment plan for Haley that would help her achieve her main goal – caring for her son independently. She knew she could do that once she strengthened her muscles, endurance and confidence.
Haley’s therapists took her through a variety of exercises to regain her strength, including dumbbell lifts, resistance band training and, her favorite exercise, boxing. “I really, really liked boxing,” she said. “Not only was it strength building and balance testing, but it was very much confidence-boosting.”
These exercises helped Haley to improve her endurance and fine motor skills which would allow her to handle daily self-care tasks for her and, eventually, her son. “I think he was half the reason I got better so fast,” Haley said. “I was trying so hard to get home to him. They wouldn’t let him into the hospital and I didn’t get to see him for two months. He started walking while I was in the hospital….so I worked super hard to get back to him.”
That drive to get back to her son paid off as Haley hit her milestones. “The day my physical therapist told me to run. I thought he was crazy and there wasn’t a chance I could do it, but I surprised myself and was able to do it,” she said. Soon after that, she was able to jump.
Her newfound skills made her feel like she could be a mom again. “Tyler left me alone with Carter for the first time,” she said. “I’m a mom again. I can pick him up, take care of him, everything.”
After nearly two months in rehabilitation, Haley could run, jump and lift her son again. She had achieved all of her goals and was ready to return home. Haley said she is looking forward to returning to a sense of normalcy and had some thoughts about her time with the Day Neuro Program. “[It was] amazing, just so positive. Regardless of what I had going on, they made everything so positive and constantly instilled confidence in me. It was challenging, but in the best way possible,” she said. “I’m so thankful I ended up here.”