“I shouted Mum get my Dad for me. I can’t get out of the bath but the door is locked, you’re going to have to smash the door down to get me out.”
Four years ago, Chris Walker had never been as fit in his entire life. Then, one day, he was suddenly struck down with a rare illness that left him paralysed in hospital for ten days.
“It was called Guillain-Barre syndrome. I’d never heard of it before”, explains Chris. “About one in a hundred-thousand people get it, so lucky me.”
Discovered by French neurologists Georges Guillain and Jean Alexander Barre in 1916, the disease causes your body’s immune system to mistakenly attack the nerves in your body, causing muscle weakness and paralysis.
Chris was on a brief break from playing rugby with Rochdale, having started the season at the Crusaders down in Wrexham, when the first symptoms of the disease began to show. He had come home from a night out at a casino in Leeds to find a strange sensation in his feet when he awoke.
Thinking it was his body telling him to exercise, he went for a run. But the next day at the hydraulics company in Shawcross where he works, his leg started to feel tingly as well. Over the next couple of days the tingling spread up his body, reaching his hands and making it hard to climb up the stairs at work.
“I’d been to hospital twice. They said that it was a trapped nerve from rugby. I thought that my mum’s got a trapped nerve and she can’t move because of the pain, whereas I couldn’t move because my body just wouldn’t move.”
It wasn’t long before Chris was back at the hospital for a third time.
“It was a Friday night, I was living at home with my Mum and Dad at the time, I was having a laugh with them, and then my face just dropped when I was laughing”, he explains.
At the hospital they just told him to go and see his GP after the weekend. “They were just fobbing me off”, he says.
“The most daunting time was when I couldn’t physically go to the toilet…
Then on the Sunday, while he was having a bath, Chris suddenly couldn’t move. His dad had to knock down the bathroom door in order to get him out and he was whisked off in an ambulance to the hospital yet again, where he spent the next ten days.
Speaking about his time in hospital, Chris noted that “it was pretty hard but the support helped, family and friends coming stuff like that.”
“The most daunting time was when I couldn’t physically go to the toilet and I had to just shit myself in bed. That was a turning point where I just knew I had to get out of there. Things started to take a turn after that.”
“I was paralysed but I just couldn’t do anything. There was no phone signal and nothing which I could do to keep myself occupied. It was a terrible few days.”
About eighty percent of people who suffer from Guillain-Barre Syndrome recover almost fully, but it’s usually a long process taking weeks and months for patients to regain even the simplest of movements. Chris surpassed assessments to recover at an incredible pace. Six weeks after being discharged from Pinderfields Hospital, he went back for a check-up, walking completely unaided, and the doctor was shocked at his progress.
Chris’s recovery started small, at first simply trying to get up out of his wheelchair. After a couple of days he was able to stand up again with the help of a Zimmer frame. By the tenth day on the ward he was itching to get home, so the doctors gave him a challenge. He was adamant that he would get out of there.
“They said right, if you can climb that flight of stairs you can go home,” Chris recalls “and it was the hardest thing I ever did. I was literally pulling myself up by the bannister”.
“If there is a challenge, I just have to meet it. No matter how big it is…
Now Chris describes himself as being able to live day to day at ninety percent capacity. He manages to play rugby on a weekend with his friends. Their local team Birkenshaw have just been crowned winners of Pennine Division Four and Chris himself was the team’s top try scorer. But he does find himself getting fatigued as a result of the disease.
“If I go to Magaluf or Newcastle on a stag do, it gets to four in the morning and the lads know I need to go for a sleep, my bodies just knackered now.”
Not everybody is as lucky as Chris though. He got in contact with a woman in Dewsbury about 18 months ago who also contracted the disease, and she tragically passed away soon after.
Chris’s brush with the Guillain-Barre syndrome has seen his outlook on life change.
“I can’t say no, because I’ve got this second chance. If there is a challenge, I just have to meet it. No matter how big it is.”
Keep up to date with Chris Walker via Twitter, @superflywalker.