By Alexandra Becker
Twenty-nine-year-old Constance Villemain was leading a busy but fulfilling life as a new mother when a rare condition stopped her in her tracks.
Two years ago, she and her husband had relocated from France to Houston for jobs they both loved; one year later, on May 8, 2020, they welcomed a baby son. Their young family had fared well during the COVID-19 pandemic, focusing on their work and enjoying extra time with their newborn. But in March 2021, Villemain began experiencing strange and concerning symptoms.
“I started feeling weak, and not long after, I could barely use my arms or my legs,” Villemain recalled. “I was unable to work, to walk—I couldn’t even brush my hair or hold a glass of water.”
Villemain, who was young and healthy by all accounts, went to get evaluated at a local hospital. There, she was diagnosed with Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS), a rare condition in which the immune system attacks the nerves. If left untreated, it can lead to permanent paralysis in some areas of the body.
“Everything was going great and we were really enjoying life and then this happened so quickly,” Villemain said. “We think it originated from a viral infection, possibly something my son brought home from daycare. My doctors say we likely won’t ever know the cause.”
Still, Villemain was lucky. Because she sought treatment as quickly as she did, her physicians were able to halt the progression of the disorder before her body reached a point of long-term debilitation.
But even with a promising prognosis, Villemain had a long road of recovery ahead. After eight days in the hospital, her physicians recommended she be transferred to TIRR Memorial Hermann, where she would be cared for by some of the top specialists in the nation for this type of rehabilitation. She chose Memorial Hermann Rehabilitation Hospital-Katy, a part of the TIRR Memorial Hermann Rehabilitation Network, so that she could be closer to home—and to her baby.
Once there, Villemain and her core care team, which included Dr. Richard Rolnick, physical therapist Jorge Paguntalan, and occupational therapists Doreth Campbell and Brenda Cossey, focused on helping her regain strength and mobility. They also focused on that which drove her impressive work ethic: Villemain was desperate to see her baby again.
“I hadn’t left my son since his birth, so this was extremely difficult,” Villemain said. “I knew he didn’t understand why his mother wasn’t home every night.”
Luckily, Villemain was able to see her son briefly a few times during her stay, adding a boost to her recovery.
“It was the light that kept me motivated,” said Villemain. “The mental aspect is so important to recovery. Having that motivation, that my family and my little baby were there cheering me on, it helped me recover so much faster.”
Even her care team was surprised by her impressive progress.
“Our mission is to help our patients achieve the best recovery possible for their situation, and in Mrs. Villemain’s case, her recovery was very much tied to seeing her son,” said Brenda Cossey, COTA. “Her progress has been remarkable. She worked every day to get home to her family—that’s what drove her.”
One week after her arrival, Villemain was able to return home to her family. She is continuing outpatient rehabilitation therapy and feels grateful for everyone who helped her get to where she is today after her life changed so suddenly just weeks prior.
Now, on May 8, Villemain will be celebrating her son’s very first birthday at home. One day later, she’ll be surrounded by her husband and one-year-old on Mother’s Day—more thankful than ever for her health, and her family.