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Rebuilding lives through neuro-rehab

How Sarah rediscovered independence only four months after Guillain-Barre Syndrome struck



After Guillain-Barre Syndrome restricted the movement of her arms and legs, Sarah Meakin was able to regain independence within only four months through the specialist support of the team at Askham Rehab. Here, we learn how that was made possible


“Seeing people make this kind of progress, rebuilding their lives and being able to go home to their families – that’s what this is all about.”

And for the team at Askham Rehab, their long track record in supporting people to regain independence after serious neurological illness or injury continues further with the latest hugely positive outcome for one of its patients.

When Sarah Meakin arrived at the specialist neuro-rehab centre, she was “very unwell”, having just left an acute setting after being diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS). 

Arriving at Askham Rehab in December, 43-year-old Sarah had very limited movement in her arms and legs, and also lost many of her teeth due to her diabetes being a complicating factor.

But the absolute determination of Sarah to recover, with the commitment and capability of the Askham therapy team, proved to be a powerful combination – barely four months later, Sarah was back home with her family.

Such is the progress she has made in a very short space of time that she has been discharged without a care package or provision, and the support of her partner and teenage son are enabling her to rebuild her life.

“Sarah is such a lovely person and we couldn’t have asked for any more from her rehab. We asked for 100 per cent and she gave 110,” says Sara Neaves, clinical lead at Askham Rehab.

“She was so motivated and engaged from the very outset, even though she was very unwell when she first came. The progress she has made shows what is possible with the right rehab and the absolute determination to achieve goals.”

Therapy in action

When Sarah arrived at Askham, she was thoroughly assessed to see what therapeutic input would be required. 

“Sarah was so motivated and was managing very well, so she didn’t need any psychological input,” says Sara.  

“Although she had very sadly lost her teeth, she didn’t need any speech and language therapy and her swallow was fine.

“Working with the physio and OT, Sarah was able to identify very clear goals of what she wanted to achieve, and our therapists were able to map out how that was going to happen.”

Sarah identified a number of goals – to return home, to go on a pre-planned UK break, and to rediscover the ability to walk.

“The pain was a big obstacle, she was in a lot of pain when she came to us and struggled with that a lot,” says Sara.

“That is normal and part of the process of recovery from GBS, and it was also affecting her sleep. She did a lot with the OT to put some practical strategies in place to support her with this, as we needed to address this first.

“Sarah engaged in a lot of activities, from crafts to listening to audiobooks and music, through to hydrotherapy which is fantastic for pain, and this made a real difference to her.”

Bringing in Askham’s wide range of therapy options, from its hydrotherapy pool and Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES) to its suite of robotics – and newly-introduced VR rehab provision through its partnership with Neuromersiv – Sarah was able to benefit from them all.

“Sarah had a wide range of different activities, from being in the gym through to cooking with the support workers and making spaghetti bolognese with garlic bread – we wanted to engage her in as many functional tasks as possible to prepare her for going back to her life,” says Sara.

“We got her into the hydrotherapy pool quite early on, which was very useful in terms of weight bearing and rebuilding her strength. We did some very intensive physio work to address how the GBS had affected her muscles and encouraged her arms and legs to move in a co-ordinated pattern.

“The use of FES was very important, and while initially she had very little movement at all, the FES and the carry over from that meant she could walk unaided. 

“There was a huge amount of hard work involved in making the progress Sarah did, but we also try to bring the fun into it too, wherever we can.

“For example, with the hydrotherapy pool, that is a functional but also fun form of rehabilitation. Our robotic equipment also has a fun element to it, and I think the VR work we did was a great example of how it can work.

“We were able to recreate the kinds of tasks she would be going back home to, practical things like cleaning the bathroom and remembering to turn the tap off and cleaning up any splashes.

“We’re lucky to have the variety of options we do to make rehab engaging.”

Return to independence

Happily, within four months, Sarah was in a position to return back home, having achieved all of her identified goals.

After arriving at Askham with very limited movement, being able to stand rather than take steps, Sarah has now recovered the ability to walk unaided.

And in line with her goal of wanting to return home, as she progressed in her rehab, Sarah was able to enjoy time reintegrating back into home life and to support her son in the run-up to his GCSEs.

“We were able to plan integration back into being at home and build up to that,” says Sara.

“We started with an overnight stay and built up to facilitating weekend leave, with her partner being able to support her back at home. We knew it was a very important time for her son and that she wanted to be there with him, so we did everything we could to make that happen.

“She was also able to go on her planned holiday in the UK with her partner. That was in February and she was able to mobilise with a stick.

“One thing she identified as being important for her was to get out of the bath, and she was also able to do that by this time with a bath board.

“Now, she is able to do it completely independently, which shows the progress she has continued to make since February. It has been fantastic to see and be part of her journey.”

Sarah does have some ongoing need for rehab, to ensure she is able to maintain the progress she has made, and may return to Askham as an outpatient.

“We would absolutely love to have her back here for some of her physical needs, but for her wellbeing and to manage her fatigue, Sarah is at the point where she could go to a gym, she doesn’t need to go to a neuro-rehab centre,” says Sara.

“GBS is a very debilitating condition and you can never be sure of making a full recovery, sometimes there are lasting deficits. Sarah still doesn’t have sensation fully back, particularly in her left leg, so that is something we can support with going forward.

“But for Sarah, her priority was to be able to walk again, and she is very happy with the progress she has made, so the lack of sensation is something we can work on over the weeks and months ahead.”

And while the team are delighted to see Sarah return home, they have shared every bit of her emotional journey since her admission in December.

“While of course this is what we work towards, for Sarah being able to go home to her family, it’s very sad to see her leave,” says Sara.

“We have worked very closely with her, and she is a similar age to most of us in the therapy team, so we have that in common too. She is such a lovely person and we have loved working with her.

“But for us as a therapy team, it can be very emotional to do this job. It was in this instance. When you have someone walking again who you thought may never be able to walk again – how can you not get involved in that emotionally?

“We wish Sarah all the best for the future and seeing her walk out of here, particularly remembering how she arrived, is an absolute joy.”