Patient Stories

Beto Dávalos

My name is Beto Dávalos, I am 21 years old and I am from Ecuador. I am a trail runner, at least, that is the word with which I usually introduce myself, although I feel that it does not pay 100% homage to everything I do. I practice andinism (mountaineering), trekking and I am also an adventure photographer, so you could say that I am a mountain lover. I started running when I was 17 years old at the insistence of my parents who were part of a local group of runners. I agreed without much desire to run… with no idea what was coming next.

While trail running had caught my attention since I was younger, I never fully devoted myself to it and practiced it sporadically and inconsistently. I could never have imagined the evolution that running has had and continues to have in my life until now.  Since November 2020 I have been in the process of going from being an amateur athlete to a semi-professional athlete. My training regimen has increasingly become stricter, even influencing my other habits. Trail running went from an obscure activity to a priority in my life.

But on December 20, 2020, while getting out of bed, I noticed something strange in the soles of my feet, they felt numb and clumsy. When I started walking, the sensation moved upward, as if it was radiating towards the ankle. Dehydration, overtraining, a muscle contracture … so many things that could cause the discomfort so I didn’t give it too much thought.  The next day the sensation had taken my entire foot up to my ankle, it was difficult for me to lift and I began to drag both of my feet as I tried to walk. My strength and mobility seemed to decline more every hour. It had been 48 hours since the symptoms appeared, this strange sensation had now overtaken my tibia and reached my knee.

On the third day, weakness in my legs was such that I could no longer walk or stand on my own; it was as if my legs had been disconnected from the body. Still thinking it was only my legs, I tried getting my laptop from the desktop but it slipped from my hands and I realized my arms were losing function as well.  It was then I started feeling scared and decided to see my doctor. The doctor said it could be due to dehydration and low electrolytes, however before leaving he mentioned his concern of a possible case of Guillain-Barré syndrome.

Luckily for me, it didn’t progress but stopped in my quadriceps and biceps called tetraplegia (paralysis caused by illness or injury that results in the partial or total loss of use of all four limbs and torso). The syndrome probably originated from a viral or bacterial infection in the weeks after symptoms began (I had had a gastrointestinal infection the week prior). I went to the neurologist who asked me to get electromyography, an exam in which needles are inserted into my limbs sending electrical impulses through the needles to check nerve and neuronal conduction. Here the diagnosis was confirmed: I have Guillain Barré syndrome. A nightmare for anyone, especially for an athlete.

GBS marked its arrival during the peak of my fitness, I had been averaging the highest volume of weekly mileage in my life and I felt in my “prime” for the first time in years. It also came at a difficult mental moment, overwhelmed with questions of if I had what is required to take the big step to be a “pro” or if I was even good enough to achieve those aspirations. When the condition worsened leaving me in a wheelchair, all the accumulated insecurities were automatically answered with a resounding YES! Running on a mountain is what I love the most in life and I always knew the answer deep down.

In principle, not being able to move, not knowing if I can ever run again or even walk filled me with despair; however, my prognosis was good and my improvement has progressed quite quickly. Today I see this syndrome as a blessing that has granted me the deepest period of introspection and growth I have had to date. I now appreciate from the depths of my heart the simple things like walking, standing up, and moving by myself.

Without a doubt, I believe the great lesson I’ve learned is this: our goals are not a utopian and distant point on the horizon, but something tangible towards which we work every day. LIFE DOES NOT WAIT, why should our goals wait? Why keep making excuses? I had to stop walking to realize how much running means to me and how much I had been self-sabotaging by not having the courage to fight for my dreams.

I have now entered the recovery phase, recovering faster than the average patient suffering from Guillain-Barré. Later in 2021, I hope to climb Chimborazo (the highest mountain in Ecuador at 6,282 meters (20,610 ft. above sea level) and run the YCC of UTMB in August.

Lastly, I would like to thank my friends and family. They’ve kept a keen eye on me and helped to make the recovery easier and entertaining. Keep crushing it on the trails!