Singer Sufjan Stevens ‘learning to walk again’ after rare Guillain-Barré Syndrome diagnosis

Sufjan Stevens has revealed his rare diagnosis this week - pictured here with St. Vincent, right, performing 'Mystery of Love' at the 2018 Oscars
Sufjan Stevens has revealed his rare diagnosis this week - pictured here with St. Vincent, right, performing 'Mystery of Love' at the 2018 Oscars Copyright Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP
By David Mouriquand
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"I woke up one morning and couldn’t walk."


Celebrated US indie-folk musician and Oscar-nominated singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens has shared his Guillain-Barré Syndrome diagnosis this week, and announced he is relearning how to walk after a hospitalization.

Stevens, 48, who is known for his delicate musical arrangements and poetic lyrics, made his name with his acclaimed third album ‘Michigan’ (2003), the start of an ambitious project to record an album for each of the US’ 50 states. Two ever came to fruition, with 2005’s ‘Illinois’.

He is best known for his stunning album ‘Carrie & Lowell’ (2015), in which he delved into the death of his mother, and his song ‘Mystery of Love’, which was nominated for an Academy Award for 2017’s Call Me by Your Name.

His next album 'Javelin' is slated to be released 6 October, and the artist took to Tumblr to explain to fans that his lack of promotion was due to the sudden onset of his medical condition.

“I’m very excited about having new music to share, but I just wanted to let you know that one of the reasons why I haven’t been able to participate in the press and promotion leading up to the release of ‘Javelin’ is bc I am in the hospital,” Stevens wrote. “Last month I woke up one morning and couldn’t walk. My hands, arms and legs were numb and tingling and I had no strength, no feeling, no mobility.”

Stevens continued, “My brother drove me to the ER and after a series of tests — MRIs, EMGs, cat scans, X-rays, spinal taps (!), echo-cardiograms, etc. — the neurologists diagnosed me with an auto immune disorder called Guillian-Barre Syndrome. Luckily there’s treatment for this — they administer immuno-hemoglobin infusions for five days and pray that the disease doesn’t spread to the lungs, heart and brain. Very scary, but it worked. I spent about two weeks in Med/Surg, stuck in a bed, while my doctors did all the things to keep me alive and stabilize my condition. I owe them my life.”

What is Guillain-Barre Syndrome?

Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS) is a rare disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks the peripheral nerves. This initially results in weakness and tingling in the hands and feet, before spreading across the body and causing paralysis.

GBS is estimated to affect about one person in 100,000 each year.

Other celebrities known to have suffered from Guillain-Barre Syndrome are former international footballer Markus Babbel, American actor Andy Griffith, author Joseph Heller, and pornographic film actress Jenna Jameson.

According to the WHO (World Health Organization), people of all ages can be affected, but it is more common in adults and in males.

Severe cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome are rare and potentially life-threatening; it can result in near-total paralysis and problems breathing.

“The cause of it is not fully understood, but most cases follow an infection with a virus or bacteria,” states the World Health Organization. “People can also develop GBS after having the flu or other viral infections including cytomegalovirus, Epstein-Barr virus, and the Zika virus.”

Stevens went on to reveal that he was transferred to a rehabilitation centre and is currently undergoing “intensive physical therapy/occupational therapy, strength building etc to get my body back in shape and to learn to walk again.”

“It’s a slow process, but they say I will ‘recover,'” Stevens wrote. “It just takes a lot of time, patience, and hard work. Most people who have GBS learn to walk again on their own within a year, so I am hopeful.”

‘Javelin’, Stevens’ twelfth album (his tenth solo LP), is due out on 6 October, a 10-track album which will see “the entire experience of Stevens’ 25-year career brought to bear in four-minute bursts of choral, orchestral, and electric wonder”, as per the press release.

The album will also be accompanied by a 48-page book of art and essays created by Stevens.

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