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Guillain-Barre Syndrome, The Disease That Killed FDR

Updated on February 2, 2013

FDR with a Walking Stick Shortly After his Diagnosis of Polio

FDR Diagnosed with Polio

In 1921 at the age of 39 Franklin D. Roosevelt became extremely sick after swimming on vacationing in the Northeast. He was diagnosed with Polio as this had been an epidemic of the 19th and early 20th century. His symptoms were paralysis of the face, numbness all over, bowl dysfunction and a high fever. These symptoms faded away except the paralysis of lower extremities. It is widely known these days that FDR was a very sick man, but during his rein as president, the public had no idea that FDR was in a wheelchair during the last years of his presidency. This was a time before television and it was a lot easier to control how the president was portrayed.

It was always believed that FDR had polio and died from complications surrounding this disease, however, because of his age when he initially contracted the disease it seems highly unlikely that he contracted polio. His symptoms and age at initial onset coincide more with Guillian barre which was not fully understood in the early 20s when FDR was being diagnosed.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Millions were living beyond the point of despair in the early 1930s when Franklin Delano Roosevelt was running for president. FDR was seeking the nomination for president in 1932, using a walking stick or holding onto someone for support.

He blamed too much freedom for the great depression and used the opportunity to push his agenda of a massive government fourth. He gave a strong speech in the 1932 election in which he asked that the country pray for him on inauguration day. He told the country that he was not afraid to exercise power, and the startled and desperate country stood behind Mr. Roosevelt. FDR still looked strong and was photographed standing up during his run for election and during his first term as president.

During Roosevelt's first term the government had so much power and the entrepreneurs who had made America strong in the past were being pushed out of business by the government, and many Americans were afraid of losing their freedom completely. Even Roosevelt's own mother said, "get that man out of the white house."

FDR was a progressive liberal who many historians believe prolonged the depression by sighting that when FDR was elected for his third term in 1941 as president of the United States. He was re-elected not for what he had achieved, but for what he had promised. Unemployment had been 25% eight years earlier when he was first elected, and it still hovered close to 20%. A Rather alarming scenario when one considers that when Ronald Reagan was elected he walked into the biggest economic downturn since the great depression and after signing the biggest tax cut off all time, the country experienced the biggest economic boom in its history. But, FDR promised to keep America out of the war with Germany. Unfortunately, it was not a promise that he kept, and soon American soldiers were off to battle. He expanded government beyond its constitutional boundaries.

With the country on its way to war Roosevelt was seen by the public frequently, in interviews, parades, and still photographs, but now he was often seen seated.

One of the Only knows Photos of FDR in wheelchair

FDR was in a wheelchair because of Gullian Barre
FDR was in a wheelchair because of Gullian Barre

Pathophysiology of Guillain Barre

It was originally reported in 2003 that Franklin Delano Roosevelt did not suffer from Polio as has been reported for decades, but in fact he suffered from Gullian Barre Syndrome.

There is no concrete proof, but there was enough documentation of FDR's illness for modern physicians to make a diagnosis beyond a reasonable doubt.

Although its specific cause is unknown, Guillain-Barre syndrome is believed to be an autoimmune response to a viral infection. This disease progresses rapidly, and affects the motor component of the nervous system. Although the spinal nerves are usually affected, the cranial nerves also may be involved. There may be a correlation between recent viral infection or vaccination, that triggers an autoimmune response that destroys the sheath around the peripheral nerves, slowing the impulses of nerves. It has also been observed that there are three phases: initial, plateau, and recovery. The initial phase is characterized by symmetric muscle weakness that begins in the legs and travels to the trunk and arms. The disease process may affect vision and hearing difficulties. Also, respiratory muscles may be affected, causing the patient to need mechanical ventilation. Although the patient will experience sensory changes,intellectual function is not disrupted. The plateau phase is essentially the same as primary phase with no further deterioration. Recovery begins when muscle strength returns from the pattern of head to toe. Approximately 95% of patients who suffer from Guillain Barre Syndrome make a full recovery.

begins at onset of symptoms
1-3 weeks
no further progression
a few days to 2 weeks
gradual improvement
may be as long as 2 years



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