A 22-year-old teacher from Virginia living in Southeast Asia was unable to move after waking up in her apartment on December 22. Now, after being diagnosed with a rare and sudden illness, her family is working to fly her thousands of miles back home in the hopes that she soon makes a full recovery.
Caroline Bradner — who moved to Thailand in October to fulfill her goal of teaching students abroad — started to experience weakness in her abdomen in the days before her body fell into paralysis, a GoFundMe set up by her family says. The weakness in her torso soon spread into the rest of her body, leading her to have difficulty when walking. After visiting a local hospital, doctors told Caroline they believed she likely had multiple sclerosis.
It wasn’t until a friend drove her to the hospital the morning of the 22nd that Caroline was officially diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a rare autoimmune disease in which the immune system mistakenly attacks the nerves, causing symptoms such as muscle weakness that eventually leads to paralysis. According to the Centers for Disease Control, an estimated 3,000 to 6,000 people develop the condition each year in the United States.
Caroline’s mother soon flew to Thailand to be by her daughter’s side after the devastating news came in that she was paralyzed from the neck down.
“Your stomach drops and your world turns upside down,” Caroline’s father, Jim Bradner, told ABC 8.
RELATED VIDEO: Paralyzed Man Moves His Hand with His Brain for the First Time
Fortunately, GBS is often temporary, and patients can make a full recovery. But, the process is excruciatingly slow and can take weeks or even months. For some, it can take years.
“We see improvements every day,” Bradner told the news station. “They may be small improvements.”
Caroline has been able to move her shoulder and feel a bit on tingling in her fingers in recent days, and the family is hoping to fly her back stateside to continue her recovery.
“We just appreciate everybody’s help and outpouring,” Bradner told CBS 6. “All the support and prayers. Caroline has a lot of family and friends in her corner. They are pulling for her and want to get her home ASAP, so she can get the care she needs.”
A GoFundMe set up by Caroline’s sister was able to raise more than $76,000 from 991 donors in just three days, and a recent update on the page says their insurance has agreed to pay for the stretch flight back home. The funds will now be used to pay for Caroline’s medical expenses, and anything left will be donated to charity.
“It’s very humbling to know that people care. It could be anybody’s daughter. It could be anybody’s child,” Bradner told ABC 8. “And they all want the same thing. They want them to be safe. They want them to come home. They want them to get better.”
Bradner told the outlet that Caroline is keeping her spirits up, inspired in part by her experiences in Thailand.
“Her being in Thailand has totally changed her outlook on life,” he said. “She says the people there are incredible, always happy. I think she wants to live like that. She has a great positive attitude. She wants to get home. So she’s trying to do anything physical, physical therapy she can do to get home.”