For the media

Once paralyzed woman now able to feel her baby

By The Health News Team | February 27, 2023
Claudia and Omar Khalifah at Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women & Newborns

Claudia and Omar Khalifah welcomed their son, Omar Jr., at Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women & Newborns, after facing Claudia's difficult diagnosis of Guillain-Barré syndrome.

It was a whirlwind courtship. Claudia Khalifah, age 24, met her husband, Omar, in high school but didn’t talk to him until they began working at a fast-food restaurant and became friends. Then, they fell in love.

Claudia and Omar moved in together when Claudia started a medical assistant certification program. After being together for 6 months, Omar asked Claudia to marry him. Although she loved him, it was a big decision. She wasn’t yet 21 and didn’t feel ready for marriage. So, Omar told her she would need to ask him when she was ready.

Three years later, while at the beach, Claudia told him that he was the one she wanted to spend the rest of her life with. They were married the next day, July 21, 2021. Three months later, Claudia was elated to find out she was pregnant.

Unexpected symptoms progress

Claudia was 38 weeks pregnant when she began to experience double vision and weakness in her legs. Never having been pregnant before, she thought it was normal symptoms of pregnancy. But when she woke the next day, she didn’t have the energy to walk without assistance.

Omar immediately took her to a local hospital not part of the Sharp system where she was diagnosed with dehydration and sent home. But Claudia’s symptoms continue to worsen. She couldn’t feel her legs and was unable to grasp anything.

Days later, Omar took her to Sharp Memorial Hospital’s Emergency Room. There, she was diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome and admitted to the hospital.

A difficult diagnosis

Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS) is a rare disorder in which the body's immune system attacks the nerves. This weakens the nerves’ ability to send signals to the brain, and the brain gets fewer messages to muscles and other parts of the body.

GBS strikes quickly. Weakness and tingling in the hands and feet, which later move toward the midsection, are usually the first symptoms. Reflexes may slow and you may also feel unusually tired. These sensations can quickly spread. While some people feel only a mild weakness, others become entirely paralyzed and struggle to swallow or breathe. 

“When you have Guillain-Barré syndrome, the immune system produces harmful antibodies that attack the nerves,” says Dr. Madjid Keyvani, a neurologist with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group.

Dr. Keyvani started Claudia on intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG), a treatment made from donated blood that contains healthy antibodies. These are given to help stop the harmful antibodies from damaging nerves.

By early August, Claudia was completely paralyzed and didn’t feel when her contractions began. She was transported from Sharp Memorial to Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women and Newborns, where she gave birth via cesarean section to a healthy baby boy — her son, Omar Jr.

Finding inspiration to recover

Claudia had to return to Sharp Memorial to continue her IVIG treatment, but nurses from Sharp Mary Birch would bring Omar Jr. to her each day, put him on her chest and help her hold him. Although Claudia was still paralyzed, she said she could “feel” her baby. It made her more determined to get better so that she’d no longer need assistance to hold him.

“Not being able to hold my baby on my own was devastating,” says Claudia. “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever experienced in my life.”

The following week, Omar Jr. was discharged, and Claudia was transferred to Allison deRose Rehabilitation Center. She was still suffering paralysis and was unable to stand on her own. Her physical therapist, Michael Espinosa, started with gentle assisted stretching exercises to strengthen the muscles in her hands and legs. Then, with the use of the SMART Balance Master®, Claudia began the slow process of learning to walk again.

The SMART Balance Master uses interactive training exercises with visual biofeedback to measure how well a patient’s eyes, inner ear, muscles and joints are working together to maintain balance. Patients are attached to a harness, which is suspended from the ceiling.

Claudia used this machine with her therapist every day to assist with walking while redeveloping her muscles. It was a challenging time for her, but she was determined to get better so she could be home with her family.

“My husband would bring my son to the rehab center for several hours each day,” Claudia says. “Seeing my baby brought a mental boost every time.”

The day when Claudia began to have feeling in her arms was “a miracle” to her. After months of no feeling, she was finally able to feel her baby. Once she had feeling in her hands, she was able to use a wheelchair to move around. From there, Claudia progressed to a walker. And after 2 1/2 months of rehab, Claudia finally went home.

Smiles for her son — and good health

Although Claudia is still not 100% well, she’s getting stronger every day with the support of her family. She’s even able to smile again — something she couldn’t do when she was paralyzed.

Claudia says she is incredibly grateful to once again have the ability to move and use her hands. She credits the care that she received at Sharp for her recovery and wants to go back to school to become a nurse or a therapist.

“The ability to feel my baby is something that I will never take for granted,” says Claudia. “He is my inspiration and motivation to get better.”

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