Guillain-Barre syndrome didn't keep UVic student from finishing TC10K

One year ago, Darbi Aitchison was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome. A doctor told her to prepare for life in a wheelchair.

Darbi Aitchison was paralyzed one year ago — she couldn't even talk

Darbi Aitchison at the finish line of the 2016 TC10K in Victoria on Sunday, April 24. (CHEK)

On Sunday Darbi Aitchison did something that one year ago would have seemed impossible — she crossed the finish line of the Times Colonist 10K run.

Last spring, the University of Victoria student couldn't move her arms or legs, or even talk, paralyzed by Guillain-Barre syndrome.

In an interview Monday with All Points West host Robyn Burns, Aitchison described crossing the finish line as a "surreal" moment.

"When you see the finish line and everyone encouraging you and cheering everybody on, it's mind-blowing," she said. "You don't believe it really happened."

According to the Mayo Clinic, Guillain-Barre syndrome is a rare disease in which a person's immune system attacks their nerves.

It can leave victims permanently disabled. The cause is unknown, and there are no cures.

'No one said it was a year-long thing'

For Aitchison, the first onset of the syndrome came with the feeling of "pins and needles" rising up her body during a soccer game in March of 2015.

A hospital visit diagnosed her condition as Guillain-Barre.

"No one said it was a year-long thing. I always thought, a couple months and I'll be back in school in September, back on the soccer field, back on the water," she said.

"It probably wasn't until mid-July that it really clicked in that it was going to be a long-term overhaul situation."

Despite receiving a positive prognosis, things went downhill a week after she was diagnosed. Aitchison was moved to the intensive care unit, unable to even talk, and had to communicate by nodding or using a letter board.

'There were a lot of doubts'

Aitchison began her recovery with physiotherapy exercises.

"I knew then, the fact that they[hospital staff] actually took the time to do that, there was the chance, a good chance, that I'd be back to myself," she said. "But there was a three-week stretch where I could not do anything. I could blink, and that was about it."

"During that, there were doubts. There were a lot of doubts."

One doctor even told her to prepare for life in a wheelchair; but she kept working and was able to do the TC 10K with the help of walking poles.

Her next goal is to get back to school to finish her kinesiology degree, and perhaps eventually do a master's program in physiotherapy.

With files from CBC Radio One's All Points West

To hear the full story, click on the audio labelled: One year after Guillain-Barre diagnosis, UVic student finishes 10k run