Arizona student paralyzed by rare disease makes incredible recovery

Jul 3, 2018, 4:44 PM | Updated: Jul 4, 2018, 8:09 am
(Barrow Neurological Institute Photo)...
(Barrow Neurological Institute Photo)
(Barrow Neurological Institute Photo)

Kara Dunn, A 20-year-old college student from Arizona, has made an extraordinary recovery at Barrow Neurological Institute after becoming paralyzed from a rare neurological condition while on vacation in Spain earlier this month.

“I never imagined a fun trip to Spain with a friend would result in me becoming paralyzed and having to be air lifted back to the United States,” Kara Dunn said Tuesday.

The University of Arizona pre-med honors student was traveling through Spain visiting friends she had met through a foreign exchange student program when she began experiencing paralysis in her face on June 3.

“My vision started bouncing ever so slightly. My friend Morgan and I were walking to get gelato and I was using my phone to direct us. When suddenly there were two phones in front of me and two hands holding those phones. The cracks in the side walk began multiplying.”

The paralysis continued to spread through her body and within hours of arriving at the nearest hospital, she had lost movement in her arms, hands, legs and feet. Dunn’s respiratory system was also starting to fail. She was intubated and later developed pneumonia.

Dunn’s brother Ryan, a medical student at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix, spoke with physicians in the U.S. and communicated with her doctors in Spain. Ryan played the role of the liaison between doctors in the United States and Spanish doctors. Dunn was officially diagnosed with Guillain-Barré Syndrome, a rare neurological condition that causes the body’s immune system to attack the nerves. Once her brother and mom arrived in Spain, they started a plan on how to bring her home.

“I can say with full confidence that my older brother saved my life,” Dunn said.

Dunn was medically airlifted from Spain to Barrow in Phoenix on June 15. Once at Barrow, she began intensive neuro-rehabilitation under the care of Dr. Christina Kwasnica.

“When I touched down at Sky Harbor and transported to Barrow I was overwhelmingly happy to be under the care of one of the top neurological institutes in the country and the world,” the 20-year-old pre-med U of A student said.

Kara regained movement and began to walk. In less than three weeks after arriving at Barrow, Dunn was discharged from the hospital.

“I can brush my own hair and brush my own teeth. I haven’t been sad, angry, or wondered why this happened to me because it happened. There is nothing I can do about it. The only thing I can do is take out of it what I can get out of it,” Kara said.

Medical director of Barrow’s Neuro-Rehabilitation Center, Dr. Kwasnica describes Kara’s recovery as amazing. She said, “I expect her to make a full recovery but she will have to continue working hard to be ready for school this fall.”

Dunn is grateful for the medical treatment she’s received at Barrow, her family’s encouragement and love, and the outpouring of positivity.

“I will never be able to thank everyone adequately for the love and support they have shown me throughout this experience. One day when I’m a physician I will have that same positivity in order for them to keep their spirits up.” Dunn said.

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