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US student paralyzed on vacation in Spain to fly home after insurance company agrees to pay bill 

  • Kara Dunn had blurry vision and trouble moving her face while in Spain 
  • After suffering numbness in her hands and feet she was admitted to hospital 
  • Dunn was diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome, which results in paralysis
  • Insurance was initially not willing to cover her emergency flight home to Arizona 
  • Her delighted family has today announced her travel insurance will pay for the flight in full, adding, 'We are blown away'

By Debbie White For Mailonline and Mary Kekatos For Dailymail.com

Published: 11:42 EDT, 14 June 2018 | Updated: 12:22 EDT, 14 June 2018

A travel insurance company has agreed to foot the $200,000 bill to transport a paralyzed student on an emergency flight back to the United States.

The family of Kara Dunn, 20, have hailed a decision by World Nomads to overturn its refusal to fly the physiology student home to Arizona after she was struck down by a rare autoimmune disorder.

She had arrived in Spain from Tempe for what was meant to be a six-week-long vacation traveling to various European countries with a friend. 

Kara Dunn, 20, from Tempe, Arizona, was left paralyzed while on vacation in Spain. Pictured: Kara with her mother in the hospital
Kara Dunn, 20, from Tempe, Arizona, was left paralyzed while on vacation in Spain. Pictured: Kara with her mother in the hospital

Kara Dunn, 20, from Tempe, Arizona, was left paralyzed while on vacation in Spain. Pictured: Kara with her mother in the hospital

From the moment Dunn (pictured) stepped off the plane, she was having blurry vision and trouble moving her face
From the moment Dunn (pictured) stepped off the plane, she was having blurry vision and trouble moving her face
This soon progressed to having trouble breathing and losing feeling in her hands and her feet (Pictured, Dunn)
This soon progressed to having trouble breathing and losing feeling in her hands and her feet (Pictured, Dunn)

From the moment Dunn (left and right) stepped off the plane, she was having blurry vision and trouble moving her face. This soon progressed to having trouble breathing and losing feeling in her hands and her feet

However, from the moment Dunn stepped off the plane, she had blurry vision and trouble moving her face. 

And on June 5, after just one day in Barcelona, she was struggling to swallow. Although she went to hospital, doctors were initially unsure of what was wrong.

When her symptoms worsened, with both her hands and feet growing numb, she was rushed into intensive care.

Dunn (pictured) was diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome, in which the immune system attacks your peripheral nervous system, paralyzing parts of or - in some cases - your whole body
Dunn (pictured) was diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome, in which the immune system attacks your peripheral nervous system, paralyzing parts of or - in some cases - your whole body

Dunn (pictured) was diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome, in which the immune system attacks your peripheral nervous system, paralyzing parts of or - in some cases - your whole body

Ryan says that Dunn (center, with her brothers) is studying to be a doctor who treats autoimmune diseases - and notes the irony that she is suffering from the very thing she wants to help treat
Ryan says that Dunn (center, with her brothers) is studying to be a doctor who treats autoimmune diseases - and notes the irony that she is suffering from the very thing she wants to help treat

Ryan says that Dunn (center, with her brothers) is studying to be a doctor who treats autoimmune diseases - and notes the irony that she is suffering from the very thing she wants to help treat

Doctors diagnosed Dunn with Guillain-Barré syndrome, a rare disorder in which the immune system attacks your peripheral nervous system, paralyzing parts of or - in some cases - your whole body. 

Dunn, who studies physiology at the University of Arizona Honors College, has since regained movement in her arms and feeling in her legs but is still paralyzed from the waist down.

Her brother, Ryan, told Daily Mail Online that a medical jet to transport Dunn home so she could begin a long journey of physical therapy would cost about $200,000 - something insurance was not at that stage willing to cover.

A GoFundMe account was set up to help pay for her flight back to the US; medical expenses; physical therapy; and transportation and housing for Dunn's family.

Today, though, there was a heartwarming update on the fundraising page, with her thrilled family announcing that 'Kara is coming home!'

They posted: 'Contingent upon Kara’s continued improvement, Kara will be on a medical flight bound for Phoenix this weekend.

'Kara’s travel insurance will pay for the flight in full. We are blown away. A huge thank you to On Call International, World Nomads travel insurance, and FoxFlight air ambulance.

'We can’t thank you enough for all of your support. There is a long road ahead and Kara will need that support to continue when she arrives at the hospital in Phoenix.'

That means that the cost of Dunn's emergency flight back to the United States will now be covered by insurance, to the tune of $200,000.

However, money raised through the GoFundMe page - which has so far reached about $88,000 - will go towards her general medical expenses and physical therapy along with transportation and accommodation costs for her family.

Dunn's brother Ryan (pictured, with Dunn) said that she has since regained movement in her arms and can start speaking again but is still paralyzed from the waist down
Dunn's brother Ryan (pictured, with Dunn) said that she has since regained movement in her arms and can start speaking again but is still paralyzed from the waist down
Dunn (pictured, with her father) faces months of physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy upon arriving home
Dunn (pictured, with her father) faces months of physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy upon arriving home

Dunn's brother Ryan said that she has since regained movement in her arms and can start speaking again but is still paralyzed from the waist down. She faces months of physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy upon arriving home. Pictured: Dunn with her brother, Ryan, left, and with her father, right

A medical jet to transport Dunn (pictured, with her family) home will cost $200,000 alone, which her primary insurance is not willing to pay
A medical jet to transport Dunn (pictured, with her family) home will cost $200,000 alone, which her primary insurance is not willing to pay

A medical jet to transport Dunn (pictured, with her family) home will cost $200,000 alone, which her primary insurance is not willing to pay

Dunn's family posted that 'Kara would like any donated funds that aren’t used for her treatment, if any, to be donated to research to find cures for autoimmune and neurological illnesses like Guillain-Barré Syndrome.'

Their positive news about the insurance cover has won praise on the fundraising page, with one person posting: 'Thank God the insurance is doing the right thing by stepping in to pay for the flights.' 

Guillain-Barré syndrome is often preceded by an infectious illness such as a respiratory infection or the stomach flu.

WHAT IS GUILLAIN-BARRÉ SYNDROME? 

Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) is a disorder in which your body's immune system attacks your peripheral nervous system.

Weakness and tingling in the extremities are the first symptoms. These sensations can quickly spread, eventually paralyzing your whole body. 

The exact cause of GBS is unknown. The disorder usually appears days or weeks after a respiratory or digestive tract infection.  

GBS is rare with between 3,000 and 6,000 developing the disease every year in the US, according to the CDC. 

Signs and symptoms:

  • Prickling or tingling sensations in your fingers, toes, ankles or wrists
  • Weakness in your legs that spreads to your upper body
  • Unsteady walking or inability to walk or climb stairs
  • Difficulty with eye or facial movements, including speaking, chewing or swallowing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Low or high blood pressure 

Treatment:

There is no cure for GBS but treatment can reduce the disease's severity and speed recovery.

1) Plasma exchange: Plasma, part of your blood, is separated from the red blood cells. The red blood cells are then put back into your body to rid the plasma of harmful antibodies

2) Intravenous Immunoglobulin Therapy: Immunoglobulin containing healthy antibodies from blood donors is given through a vein and blocks harmful antibodies from contributing to damage

Recovery: 

Recovery can take months or even years but sufferers generally experience this timeline:

  • After the first signs and symptoms, the condition progressively worsens for about two weeks
  • Symptoms reach a plateau within four weeks
  • Recovery usually lasts between six to 12 months, though it can take longer

 Source: Mayo Clinic

It's a rare syndrome, affecting about one in 100,000 people and fewer than 20,000 cases per year, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. 

After the first symptoms of Guillain-Barré syndrome, sufferers' conditions usually worsen for about two weeks before plateauing around the four-week mark.

And that was the case for Dunn, according to her brother, Ryan.

He told Daily Mail Online that within hours she was in the ICU and then intubated for severe pneumonia.

He and their mother, Dawn, both traveled to Spain to support Dunn by her bedside.

The recovery period can last as little as a few weeks and as long as a few years, but about 30 percent of those diagnosed have a residual weakness after three years.

Most who have Guillain-Barré syndrome make full recoveries, but some are left with tingling sensations in the arms and legs 

Since Dunn first entered the hospital, Ryan says her condition has slowly been improving.

'After I got there she was under lighter sedation and her pneumonia was mostly resolved,' he told Daily Mail Online.

'She then was able to nod her head "yes" and shake her head "no" to question, which she doesn't remember because she was sedated.'

Dunn's breathing tube has since been removed and she's gradually been able to start talking again, although Ryan says her speech is slurred, she speaks one sentence at a time, and has trouble controlling the volume of her voice.

She's also regained movement in her upper arms and forearms and has feeling in her hands, but her legs are completely numb - she is paralyzed from the waist down. 

Dunn's first step in treatment has been to receive Intravenous Immunoglobulin Therapy (IVIG).

When you have Guillain-Barré syndrome, the immune system produces harmful antibodies that attack the nerves.

IVIG is a treatment made from donated blood that contains healthy antibodies to block the harmful ones from continuing their damage.

Once she returns home, Dunn will receive a combination of physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy.

Doctors in Spain are waiting until Dunn is breathing completely on her own before sending her home so she will be stronger and will be less likely to have complications mid-air. 

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