February 1, 2010

Downstairs in the rehab wing of Markham Stouffville hospital, in a private room with a sunny window, lies Donna Hartlen, a young mother who is now partially paralyzed.

The Whitby woman can’t stand without leaning on a walker and her legs are too numb to allow her to walk for more than a few steps. The right side of her face is paralyzed, she can’t properly chew solid food and her right eye is bandaged because she can no longer blink to protect it. Until five weeks ago, she was a perfectly healthy woman spending Christmas with her family in Nova Scotia. And then on Dec. 29 she was rushed to an emergency room in Halifax, suddenly unable to stand on feet.

The doctors diagnosed her with Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare neurological condition characterized by sudden weakness or paralysis. And while no one seems willing to discuss the likely cause, the 39-year-old knows exactly where the fault lies.