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City fire chief hospitalized

January 02, 2003|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - Hagerstown Fire Chief Gary Hawbaker has been hospitalized after being diagnosed with Guillain-Barr Syndrome - a rare disorder in which the body's immune system attacks part of the nervous system, sometimes causing paralysis, Hagerstown City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman said Tuesday.

Hawbaker was in serious but stable condition Tuesday night at Frederick (Md.) Memorial Hospital.

Hawbaker, 54, was admitted Sunday to Washington County Hospital after noticing a weakness in his legs, Zimmerman said.

Hawbaker was later tranferred to the Frederick hospital because there was a doctor there with more expertise with the syndrome, Mayor William M. Breichner said.

Hawbaker, who has been the city's fire chief since 1985, did not know he had the disease, Zimmerman said.

In Hawbaker's absence, Deputy Chief Rick Kipe will be in charge of the fire department, Zimmerman said.

People who get the disease sometimes require months of hospitalization, Zimmerman said.

Only one or two people in 200,000 contract Guillain-Barr Syndrome, also known as Landry's ascending paralysis, according to Estelle Benson, founder and executive director of the Wynnewood, Pa.-based Guillain-Barr Syndrome Foundation International, which provides help for people with the disease. The disease is characterized by the rapid onset of weakness and paralysis of the legs, arms, breathing muscles and face, she said.

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Each case is different, and the mere fact that Hawbaker has the disease does not mean he will suffer paralysis, Benson said.

Many patients require an intensive care unit during the early course of their illness, especially when breathing assistance is needed, Benson said.

The cause of the syndrome is unknown.

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