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MEXICO CITY, Mexico — Almost three weeks after being hospitalized due to a fall, legendary Mexican ranchera singer Vicente Fernández remains in an intensive care unit, now diagnosed with a syndrome that affects the nerves, causing immobility in a person’s extremities and weakening their respiratory health.
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Vicente Fernández Jr., the singer’s eldest son, confirmed to the media on Friday that his father was diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome.
Fernández was hospitalized on Aug. 8 after suffering a fall at his estate Los Tres Potrillos located on the outskirts of Guadalajara, Jalisco, México.
Since then, the King of Rancheras remains under the care of a medical team at Hospital Country 2000 in Guadalajara. He is in serious, but stable condition and is undergoing rehabilitation treatment to recover movement in his limbs, lead neurosurgeon Francisco López confirmed on Friday.
La Voz sought the opinion of Dr. Adrián Ruiz based in México City, who explained what exactly this syndrome is and what kind of treatment and recovery can be expected for a patient with this diagnosis.
Guillain-Barré syndrome, a disorder that affects the nerves
The lack of movement in his limbs that Fernández is currently experiencing is a symptom of the syndrome, and according to Ruiz, recovery could take months or perhaps years, depending on the comorbidities that Fernández suffers.
Guillain-Barré syndrome is a rare illness in which the immune system attacks a person’s nerves. The first symptoms are tingling and muscle pain, Ruiz said.
“The patient begins to feel a tingling, a numbness,” Ruiz said. “It usually begins in the lower limbs from the bottom up. It begins with numbness in the feet, works its way up to the legs, can reach the arms, also the face and attack the respiratory and swallowing muscles. When it attacks the respiratory muscles, the problem is already serious and may require mechanical ventilation”.
The syndrome primarily attacks the nerves, preventing them from transmitting signals to the brain, he said.
“The nerves have a covering. Imagine a cable that has a rubber cover. With this disease, the covering is destroyed, the nerves no longer fulfill their function. The most common type is acute inflammatory demyelinating polyradiculoneuropathy, in which the protective layer of nerves is damaged. The damage prevents the nerves from transmitting signals to the brain, causing weakness, numbness or paralysis,” he said.
Of people with this syndrome, the death rate ranges from 3 to 7%, Ruiz said. “Why does this happen? Because the syndrome attacks the respiratory muscles, even the muscles used for swallowing,” he pointed out, and when these muscles are attacked it makes it almost impossible for a person to continue breathing normally.
According to Ruiz, while there is no known cure for this, there are various treatments to counteract the syndrome, such as the administration of immunoglobulin or plasmapheresis, a plasma transfusion.
After the first symptoms, the condition tends to get progressively worse two weeks later.
“The symptoms stabilize in four weeks and recovery begins once a treatment is started,” but recovery can be slow, he said. “It usually lasts from six to 12 months. However, there are people whose recovery can last up to three years —it all depends on age and condition,” he said.
However, Ruiz indicated that it is difficult to interpret or specifically evaluate the health of Fernández based on statements issued by the singer’s medical team as these do not detail the patient’s clinical record 100%.
Fernández’s doctors sought another specialist’s opinion
The doctors who treat Fernández and who are committed to improving his health, according to Fernández’s family, have done the impossible.
According to Ever Rodríguez, director of Hospital Country 2000, the medical team has already requested a second opinion from Dr. Timothy Hernández, who practices internal medicine in the U.S.
“Hernández evaluated the patient, reviewed the clinical file, toured the entire hospital and spoke with the treating doctors,” said Rodríguez. “With this, Dr. Timothy offers his opinion: ‘Mr. Vicente Fernández, is very well treated, well handled'”.
Ever Rodríguez pointed out that the singer is already interacting with his family and is now in a seated position. Previously, the medical team had informed the public that Fernández remained sedated and connected to a ventilator.
“At this moment, Mr. Vicente Fernández is sitting on a recliner, he is awake with spontaneous eye-opening. He understands what is being communicated to him. He interacts directly with his family through affirmation or denial movements.
“He has a reaction to stimulation, movement of the right hand and left foot. This is a breakthrough. Vicente Fernández’s health condition is serious, however, stable”, Rodríguez said.