A story of survival: Guillain-Barré Syndrome

Rose of Netcare Rosebank lives on through her care

Wednesday, November 29 2023

It can happen to anyone, although it is slightly more common in men. Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS) can develop very rapidly, causing muscle weakness that can be debilitating or even life-threatening. 

GBS survivor Craig Taylor shares his experience of having independence suddenly ripped away and learning to trust in himself and the extraordinary individuals caring for him during his admission and rehabilitation at Netcare Rosebank Hospital. 

“I will never forget my first night after being transferred from the intensive care unit (ICU), completely paralysed from GBS, which started five weeks prior and left me with a complete loss of all muscle function within just four days,” Mr Taylor recalls. 

“A nurse who I later became very close with, Nurse Rosemary Mokoena (Rose), looked after me, and her first challenge was to convince me that I would not die that first night. I could not press the call button, as I couldn’t move, and I could hardly talk,” he says.

“Guillain-Barré Syndrome is unfortunately not preventable, and it can affect anyone although it is rare. GBS can occur when a person gets an infection, most commonly a gastric infection and the body creates the wrong type of antibodies that not only fight the infection but also attack the protein on the nerves, causing nerve damage,” says Dr Michael Isaacs, a neurologist who treated Mr Taylor at Netcare Rosebank Hospital.

Nurse Rosemary Mokoena: Nurse Rosemary Mokoena is sorely missed by all who knew her at Netcare Rosebank Hospital after she tragically passed away during the Covid-19 pandemic.


Mr Craig Taylor lost all muscle function including the ability to breathe for himself due to Guillain Barre Syndrome, and shares his story of survival and gratitude after his long recovery at Netcare Rosebank Hospital.


Father-of-four Craig Taylor is pictured with his son, Andrew, after being discharged from hospital on his road to recovery.


“In mild cases, the person may only experience tingling, but in severe cases, the person may lose sensation and function of their arms and legs. In the most extreme cases, such as Mr Taylor's, the muscles needed for breathing also stop working, and artificial ventilation is required,” Dr Isaacs explains. 

By the time he had been bed-ridden in hospital for 49 days, Mr Taylor was at last able to begin the gruelling medical rehabilitation to start the long process of recovery, which at that stage was not certain. 

“The nurses placed me in a wheelchair, so I could build up the capacity to sit again, which is an understatement of the most epic proportions. The goal is to sit for 30 minutes, after the first five minutes the pain starts to set in. At 15 minutes, it feels unbearable,” he remembers. 

“I called for Rose and said I had done my time here, I asked her to take me out of the chair. She refused. I asked again. She refused. I insisted that I could not take this for another 15 minutes. She sat with me, holding my hand, and encouraged me, ‘You can do it Mr Taylor’,” he recalls. 

“It was unfathomable to me at the time, but Rose was right. She was there for me through everything. The specialists were pleased with the progress I was making, and Dr Isaacs, I believe, saw the tenacity in my eyes as he encouraged me to keep going. On more than one occasion Rose would encourage me by assuring me that I would be OK,” Mr Taylor recalls. 

“The recovery from severe Guillain-Barré Syndrome is slow and gradual, and it can be extremely frustrating for the person because their mind is normal, but they can’t yet use their limbs, and it takes quite some time to regain independence,” Dr Isaacs says. 

“It can be difficult for patients to see that they will get better, and keeping their spirits up is a very important factor. Nurse Rosemary was very good at helping to keep patients like Mr Taylor motivated and reinforcing the hope that convinces a person they will get better and gives them the strength to continue their multidisciplinary therapy.”

Little by little, Mr Taylor’s movement and sensation started returning. “I started asking for extra time in the hospital gym, and it still brings a smile to my face when I think of the arm cycle where I asked the occupational therapist to tie my hands to the machine so I could keep going for longer,” Mr Taylor says. 

“Over this time, I developed a deep love for people who choose to become doctors and nurses and what they would do for another human being. They are heroes, they deserve all our respect and support, and I dare say I respected and loved Rose and her colleagues as much as any other person I knew and do know till this day,” he says. 

Tragically, Nurse Rosemary Mokoena’s life was cut short by COVID-19, and she is sorely missed by the doctors, staff and patients of Netcare Rosebank Hospital. She lives on through the recovery of the many people to whom she provided comfort and care through the most challenging times of their lives, and her memory continues to inspire her colleagues and all who had the privilege of knowing her.

“I only hope that when you face your hour of need, you will find a Rose, her colleagues and a heart for care like I experienced in the wards of Netcare Rosebank Hospital,” Mr Taylor says. 


Notes to editor
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Issued by:   MNA on behalf of Netcare Rosebank Hospital
For media enquiries contact: Martina Nicholson, Meggan Saville, and Estene Lotriet-Vorster 
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