by Jan Willms
Running marathons. Climbing mountains. Traveling the world as part of a career. Volunteering for the Olympics.
All of these activities ended suddenly for Linda J. Hood on May 19, 2018, when she was stricken with Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS), a rare neurological disorder in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the peripheral nervous system.
Hood was on a trip from her home in Woodbury to Killeen, TX, when her legs suddenly became weak. “I was thinking I was just tired,” she said. But when she experienced pain in her legs, tingling feet and trouble walking, she went to the hospital.
She became totally paralyzed and was unable to speak. She struggled to breathe and was put on a ventilator. She was unconscious for 10 days. Hood spent eight months in intensive care and remained in the hospital for 15 months.
“The doctors were not sure I would survive and called my family,” she said. “But I had run 60 marathons, and I had a lot of stamina.”
It was determined that the cause of her illness was from eating some contaminated chicken. Hood survived, but it was a struggle with surgeries and anemia and constant pain. “At least twice I communicated to the hospital staff that I wanted to dies,” she said.
Hood persevered and is now back home in Woodbury. She has regained some movement in her head and arms and can now speak, although with difficulty. She said she has a permanent misalignment of her teeth from having a tracheotomy tube inserted for so long. “I am still unable to completely close my lips together, and my facial muscles are not fully functioning,” she said. “I have difficulty speaking because my tongue movement is extremely slow.”
GBS has affected her heart, her movements, her swallowing, and her facial muscles— so many parts of her body. But it has not affected the determination, the perseverance and the dedication that Hood embodied before her illness. She now uses a wheelchair.
Hood has completed seven graduate-level courses in clinical research at St. Cloud University, earning mostly As and one B. She regularly attends speech, physical and occupational therapy. And in February of this year Hood was crowned Ms. Wheelchair Minnesota. Ms. Wheelchair Minnesota is part of the Ms. Wheelchair America Inc. organization, which empowers women of achievement through leadership, advocacy and education.
Hood brings the same zeal she has used throughout her life in running marathons, volunteering, traveling and working across the country to her reign as Ms. Wheelchair Minnesota.
She is strongly advocating for changes in public bathrooms to make them more adaptable for people with disabilities. Hood said that currently, most bathrooms do not have adult changing tables for her and others to use. “There’s no place, so I have to stand or my personal care assistant has to have me be on the floor,” she said. “It’s terrible.”
As Ms. Wheelchair Minnesota, Hood is advocating across the state for colleges, malls and airports to build more accessible bathrooms. She said there is not only the need for adult diaper tables. Many bathroom doors cannot be opened by someone in a wheelchair. Soap dispensers cannot be reached. “There are so many people affected by this, and I am trying to get a bill passed to make these changes. That is what I am trying to accomplish.”
She said she makes it a point to talk to management of these facilities, and it is a task she will continue on a wider scale if she is selected as Ms. Wheelchair America in the August competition.
“I would like to see these changes made world-wide, and I would have a stronger platform as Ms. Wheelchair America,” Hood said.
Meanwhile, she advocates for others like herself and continuously strives to strengthen her body. She said she hopes to return to work remotely, and she is working diligently toward a full recovery “no matter how long it takes.”
Hood has written a book about the “good, bad and ugly” experiences of her lengthy hospital stay and is looking for a publisher and also an opportunity to tell her story on television.
If others would like to join in her advocacy for more accessible bathrooms, she can be reached at email@example.com