By MICHELE MANDEL
Last Updated: 30th January 2010, 9:09pm
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.
She blames the H1N1 flu shot she received on Dec. 13 – two weeks before her symptoms suddenly appeared.
Of course, there is no way to know for certain. But Hartlen has only grown more convinced since chatting by chance in the hall with the older gentleman from the hospital room next door.
Don Gibson has GBS as well, with legs so numb now that he is confined to a wheelchair. It turns out that not only was he also vaccinated against H1N1, but he got the shot just two days before Hartlen, in the very same Markham doctors’ office.
“It’s way too coincidental,” insists the slight mom, her words slurred because the right side of her face will not move. “It’s either a bad batch or a lot more people are getting this than they are talking about.”
Her 80-year-old neighbour is equally convinced that the H1N1 vaccine to blame. “It must have been a bad batch,” Gibson believes. “But nobody is saying anything. I know I signed a piece of paper and there’s no liability but it’s pretty scary.”
They are now comrades in arms, an unlikely duo who share a rare illness and a similar vaccination history that no one wants to acknowledge.
According to the Public Health Agency, there are about 600-700 new GBS cases a year in Canada, caused usually by food-borne bacteria, respiratory infections or surgery.