Eerything seemed under control for Holly Gerlach and her newborn daughter Casey after a successful delivery in January 2010. But a few weeks later, it became apparent that something was very wrong. “I stood up and my legs kind of started to give out,” she recalls in an interview with Canada’s AMI-TV nearly three years later. “It came on so quickly. Within two days, I was completely paralyzed.”
Gerlach was diagnosed with a severe form of Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS). Also spelled Guillain-Barre, this rare disorder affects the immune and nervous systems and leads to a loss in walking ability and breathing capabilities, among other symptoms, according to Mayo Clinic. In Gerlach’s case, as the video shows, she was paralyzed from the neck down and unable to use her vocal cords or breathe on her own.
The next four months were excruciatingly hard for everyone involved, but especially for her, without a doubt: Watching the video again now, she writes on her personal website saying “I can tell by the look on my face just how depressed I was those first three months, and it reminds me of how badly I wanted to give up – but I didn’t.”
After a month and a half of slow recovery, she finally started to show clear signs of improvement when she was able to start moving her arms again, then breathe without a machine. About two months after the disorder began, she could speak again. Three months in, she regained the ability to use her legs, then later walk – albeit with assistance. Four months later, she was finally allowed to go home.
Another month would see her be able to walk without any help. Several months later, she regained peak fitness by going through the INSANITY workout, which Time describes as a “60-day program composed of 30-minute bouts of very high-intensity aerobic and resistance exercise, to be completed six days a week.”
“When I was learning how to walk and I was realizing all the things that I couldn’t do, it was just kind of surreal to realize you take for granted what you’re able to do,” she tells AMI-TV. She has written a book about that part of her life titled “Happily Ever After” and actively contributes to the GBS Foundation.