It was a July morning last year in Moscow when Emmanuel Rashba remembered feeling a strange weakness in his shoulders.
A few hours later, he was completely paralyzed, drifting in and out of consciousness at a nearby hospital."It was so fast, what happened to me," Rashba said. "In the morning I only felt a little weakness. At noon I was unable to take my keys from my back pocket. At 3 p.m., I was unable to get out of the car, and at 5 p.m. I was completely paralyzed."
The culprit was Guillain-Barre, a rare inflammation of the nerve roots along the spinal cord. And, for the popular University of Utah theoretical physics professor, it was a complete shock. He had gone to Russia early in July 1997 to receive the A.F. Ioffe Prize given by the nation's Academy of Sciences, one of the most prestigious in the world.
He returned to Utah on a stretcher, unable to breathe, eat, talk or move on his own.
The syndrome was diagnosed by doctors in Russia and confirmed by neurologists at St. Mark's Hospital in Salt Lake City. Though the severity of the condition varies widely from case to case, neurologist Joseph Vick Roy said Rashba "had an especially severe case." The inflammation had caused complete paralysis of all motor functions in Rashba's body.
Rashba was lucky, though. Had he stayed in the Moscow facility where he spent the first four weeks of his illness, his recovery would certainly not have gone as well as it has, said Erna Rashba, Emmanuel's wife.
"It was a very big hospital, and the doctors were very good," she said, her words tinged with her native Russian accent. "But there is no money in Russia. There was no equipment, no medicines. Even the linens, the sick people had to bring their own."
So Rashba's daughter, Julia, set to work immediately to get her father the best care possible.
She flew to Moscow to be with her father and to obtain the necessary documents allowing Rashba to return to America for treatment.
The process took four weeks because Rashba was still a citizen of Russia. Visas had to be approved to leave Russia and to re-enter the United States for both father and daughter. Medical care, determined by Rashba's insurance company, had to be arranged.
Further arrangements had to be made to transport Rashba via medical aircraft, with a complete medical staff on board.
Eventually, everything fell into place, and Rashba was flown to St. Mark's Hospital. From there he went to HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital in Sandy, where the improbable happened.
Emmanuel Rashba began to recover.
The "miracle," as many staff members called it, was a yearlong struggle, made up of days of hard work. Supported by medical personnel and encouraged by numerous therapists, Rashba worked himself off the ventilator, the feeding tube and out of bed.
Recently he sat beaming in his wheelchair as hospital staff, friends and family celebrated his remarkable achievement - and his discharge from the hospital.
Rashba was going home. Last week he moved to his daughter's house near Boston. There, he'll continue his rehabilitation on an outpatient basis.
How did a 70-year old man, in the face of doctors' predictions that he had only a 25 percent chance of recovery, ever make it out of the hospital, out of the grasp of such a debilitating disease?
Hope, hard work and a determination not to let something negative get the better of him, said Rashba's daughter.
"He is the most devoted person," she said. "His goal was to be independent, and to be able to do something positive with his life. That is the way he has always lived. He worked as hard as he could to make the recovery, and I'm sure that he'll keep doing the same thing and continue to progress."
Vick Roy, who served as Rashba's physician at Health-South, agreed. Though Rashba will probably never make a full recovery, Vick Roy said Rashba is on the right track.
"He has really set a standard with regard to the way he maintained such tremendous motivation, optimism, such a great attitude," Vick Roy said. "He set the example of how patients should behave in the face of real adversity.
"I treat patients with injuries, illnesses and disabilities. It's easy to give up, complain and get angry. But he never did any of those things. He never got angry, he never got depressed, and he never gave up," Vick Roy said.
"In the face of such a devastating illness, he handled it with such personal strength."
Rashba was hesitant to take too much credit. Sure he worked hard, he said, but he wasn't alone. "It is your work," he told those gathered around him.