Sufjan Stevens Diagnosed With Guillain-Barré Syndrome, Says He Is Relearning How To Walk

The Grammy-nominated singer disclosed the health news after being notably absent from promoting his upcoming album.

Sufjan Stevens is dealing with a major health concern.

The Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter released a new single for his upcoming album “Javelin” last week, but has been notably absent from promoting the record.

“One of the reasons … is bc I am in the hospital,” the 48-year-old wrote in a statement Wednesday on his Tumblr website. “Last month I woke up one morning and couldn’t walk. My hands, arms and legs were numb and tingling and I had no feeling, no mobility.”

“My brother drove me to the ER and after a series of tests — MRIS, EMGs, cat scans, X-rays, spinal taps (!), echo-cardiograms, etc. — the neurologists diagnosed me with an auto immune disorder called Guillain-Barre Syndrome,” he continued.

Guillain-Barré syndrome is a rare disorder in which a patient’s immune system attacks their nerves, according to the Mayo Clinic. Initial symptoms of tingling in the extremities can evolve into complete paralysis of the body— as well as death — if left untreated.

“Luckily there’s treatment for this — they administer immuno-hemoglobin infusions for five days and pray that the disease doesn’t spread to the lungs, heart and brain,” Stevens wrote in his blog. “Very scary, but it worked. I spent about two weeks in Med/Surg, stuck in a bed.”

Stevens said doctors managed to stabilize the condition. “I owe them my life,” he said.

The decorated indie-rock singer isn’t the only famous entertainer to be diagnosed with Guillain-Barré. Actor and comedian Andy Griffith had a long recovery after being diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome and said it left him with permanent pain in his feet. Stevens himself said he is currently relearning how to walk.

“On September 8, I was transferred to acute rehab, where I am now undergoing intensive physical therapy/occupational therapy, strength building, etc. to get my body back in shape and to learn to walk again,” Stevens wrote Wednesday.

He continued: “It’s a slow process, but they say I will ‘recover.’”

Stevens thanked his doctors for saving his life and assured fans he's "in great spirits."
Stevens thanked his doctors for saving his life and assured fans he's "in great spirits."
Colin Young-Wolff/Invision/Associated Press

Stevens, who was nominated for an Oscar in 2018 for his work on “Call Me by Your Name,” added that this will take “a lot of time, patience, and hard work” — but that most people with Guillain-Barré “learn to walk again on their own within a year.”

The disease became a focal point of discussion in 2021 when pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson released their coronavirus vaccine and a handful of people developed Guillain-Barré. The incidence was rare, with about 100 cases out of the 12.8 million shots administered, according to Yale Medicine. Still, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration added a warning to the shot, which is no longer available in the U.S.

In 2016, the Pan American Health Organization reported a substantial correlation between the Zika virus and increases in Guillain-Barré, cases of which rose by 211% in Colombia, 150% in the Dominican Republic and 100% in El Salvador after Zika emerged.

Stevens, who is currently on his “second week of rehab,” lauded his doctors Wednesday as “a really great team.” He assured his fans that he’s “committed to getting better” and that he’s “in good spirits.”

“Thank you for your thoughts and prayers,” he wrote. “And a huge shout out to all the incredible caretakers of the world working night and day to help us heal. They are living saints. Be well, be joyful, stay sane, stay safe. I love you. yours truly from a wheelchair.”

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