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MURRAY — Not even a month into his missionary service in Leeds, England, 19-year-old Joey Cottrell found himself weak, tired and unable to climb stairs.
When Elder Joey Cottrell's parents first received a call from the LDS mission president, doctors had not yet determined the cause of their son's fatigue.
"The first thing we did is hit our knees and pleaded with our higher power to somehow strengthen Joe and everybody that's involved," said Shane Cottrell, Joey's father. "This whole thing really, really, wakes you up to what's important in life."
Doctors in the United Kingdom diagnosed him with Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare disorder where the immune system attacks the nerves. Breathing became more difficult. He could not move his legs. He had difficulty moving his arms.
"It was getting worse and worse, and it got to its worst point so I was just laying down. I was paralyzed from the shoulder down,” he said.
The tingling feeling of a limb falling asleep coursed through his body. The young LDS elder could barely hold the phone to his ear the first time he talked to his parents from the hospital. Two weeks in the Missionary Training Center, three weeks in the mission field and a week in an overseas hospital led to this: He would be coming home.
Elder Cottrell was wheeled onto a commercial flight to return to the United States.
"He was ready to get out of bed and get into the therapy," Sharry Worley, a registered nurse and program manager for the missionary, said.
He said it felt like his nerves were on fire while he was healing. Over a period of months at the Neuro Specialty Rehabilitation Unit at Intermountain Medical Center he again learned to stand, then walk, then climb stairs as he received the help of a physical and speech therapist, and an occupational therapist, who helped him regain the finger dexterity needed to play the guitar.
Every day a new part of Joey's body began to work again.
Guillain-Barre begins in the toes and spreads upward through the body. The healing process works in reverse, Worley said, beginning at the head and moving downward.
Cottrell is currently working with specialists two days a week at The Orthopedic Specialty Hospital to regain muscle strength he lost with the illness. As of Friday, he still had some tingling in his feet, weakness in his ankles and was 15 pounds shy of regaining the original 30 he lost.
Friday morning, the Centerville resident visited Intermountain Medical Center, where he was a patient for more than two months. The 6-foot-4 young man laughed, walked, played guitar and demonstrated hand exercises that months earlier were difficult.
"His attitude was amazing," said Josh Parry, occupational therapist at Intermountain Medical Center, who worked with the young man.
Joey Cottrell said he will resubmit his mission papers as soon as a doctor clears him, with hopes to be back in the mission field by February.
"It's definitely humbled me. I don't know, I think it was just a good experience just because it was a hard experience," he said.