GAYLORD GAUNTLET: After enduring a real gauntlet, Wallingford’s Greg Whitehouse is ready for the fun one



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WALLINGFORD — Greg Whitehouse has endured a lot in the last seven months. 

The Wallingford resident contracted COVID-19 in November, just days before his 61st birthday.

While in quarantine, he discovered he also had Guillain-Barre syndrome, an illness in which the body’s immune system attacks the nerves.

It can rapidly bring on paralysis. In a matter of days, Whitehouse was paralyzed from the shoulders down.

Now, seven months later, Whitehouse is expected to make a full recovery.

He will also be one of the featured athletes this Saturday in the annual Gaylord Gauntlet on the campus of Gaylord Specialty Healthcare, where he was treated.

“It’s terrible that in four days I could get in such bad shape, but seven months ago I wouldn’t even think about doing something like this,” Whitehouse said. “If nothing had happened to me and someone asked me to do this I would say no, because I’m not in good enough shape. Because I got ill, I lost 20 pounds and they got me into shape.

“I’m not afraid of anything now after surviving that. The Gauntlet is nothing. It’s just a few obstacles.”

Sports Association Program Manager Katie Joly said Whitehouse is an inspiration.

“Greg came to me as a referral from an outpatient physical therapist,” Joly said. “When I met him we talked about the race and the event and what it entails. He said he wanted to think about it and the next day he said he was in.”

Joly said there are 11 total adaptive athletes partaking in this year’s Gauntlet, which was not staged a year ago due to the pandemic. While the Gauntlet is back, the field has been capped at 500, half of its usual capacity.

“We have all different types of athletes that have come through our program,” Joly said. “Sometimes you don’t see the disability, but Greg was a really nice story of recovery and progress. He’s worked through a lot. He couldn’t move anything on his body and he needed to re-learn everything, and now he’s running a 5K obstacle mud run.”

It’s a feat that was hard for Whitehouse to imagine just a few months ago.

“I'm almost all better," he said. “I went from a COVID-19 diagnosis in November — a mild case — then I had back pain, tingling in my feet on the 19th of November. On the 20th, I could barely walk. I was talking to my doctor and I fell and busted my ankle.”

The broken ankle was the least of his worries considering the ailments he was soon facing.

“They took me to the hospital and I was diagnosed with GBS – an autoimmune disease that destroys the nervous system,” Whitehouse said. “By the next day, I was completely paralyzed. I lost all sensations in my hands and feet. They were treating me over the next three or four days before I started to feel a little better.”

Whitehouse’s breathing and heart were spared from any harm from the ordeal.

By November 27, Whitehouse was an inpatient at Gaylord. That’s when his broken ankle was discovered.

He started his physical and occupational therapy in a wheelchair. He went through a period where he couldn’t control any bodily functions.

Whitehouse eventually went from a wheelchair to a walker. He was discharged from the inpatient program on January 21 and has since continued as an outpatient.

“February and March I got better, and April and May I was almost back to normal,” Whitehouse said. “I'm just about back to normal. My left leg isn’t perfect. Other than that, I recovered.”

A lifelong Wallingford resident, Whitehouse graduated from Lyman Hall in 1977. He's back working as a manufacturing engineer in town.

He and his wife Sharon has three grown children — Jon, Jim and Andy — and four grandchildren. Jim and Andy live in Wallingford; Tim lives in Salem in eastern Connecticut.

While Whitehouse was ill, Sharon was his only connection to the outside world. Due to the pandemic, he was allowed one visitor a day for one hour, and it was always her.

Occasionally, he was able to see other family members through “window visits.” They would talk on cell phones.

“It was difficult,” Whitehouse said. “I had my family there and they could see that I was living and breathing.”

Sharon Whitehouse said it’s been a trying seven months for the family.

“It’s been hard, but the support of everyone has made it so much easier,” she said. “Gaylord always made sure I knew what to do if he came home with a wheelchair or a walker. No matter the situation, they made sure I could handle him.

“He’s improved amazingly,” Sharon added. “The first time I got to see him when he was released he was sitting in a wheelchair. Then I saw him eating and being able to eat and able to move his hand to his mouth with his food. It’s a lot. I was just so happy to see him.”

Prior to November, Whitehouse had never spent a night in a hospital.

The episode was mentally stressful. Whitehouse said he had to overcome some “mental difficulties” from the trauma. He said he was able to resolved many of those issues at Gaylord. 

“It’s almost a miracle that I'm able to do this Gauntlet," Whitehouse said. “Seven months ago, I was literally paralyzed, and now I’m going to be running a little over three miles with obstacles. I'm in better shape than I have been in any time of my life.

“It’s a wonderful thing and I’m really looking forward to it. I went through a lot of obstacles and I was able to overcome them. I hope that my story can help other people as well.”

As a featured athlete, Whitehouse will be assisted by staff and family. Several members of Whitehouse's family will be participating in the Gauntlet. Others, like Sharon, will be just watching.

“She was so important to my recovery that I can't describe it,” Whitehouse said. “She was the only one I had contact with. She would help feed me and she took over all of the responsibilities at home. Her mother lives with us and she cared for both of us at the same time.

“When I got out in January, I needed a lot of help. She made sure I got around the house safely and helped me with daily things. I had just barely gotten those skills back at that point. She did an outstanding job being there for me with a positive attitude.”

Joly said Whitehouse is a genuine, down-to-earth honest person.

“He has great awareness of his abilities and capabilities,” Joly said. “He’s up for the challenge. He likes to push himself. He’s driven, motivated and determined, and that’s what you need to do a race like this.

“It’s challenging for everyone,” Joly added. “There are more than 20 obstacles and athletes will be going over logs and climbing over cargo nets. We’re all excited for him. He’s going to do great.”

Whitehouse mentioned outpaitent therapists Leigh Riley and Kaitlin Donohue. For his inpatient care, he singled out Stephanie McNeil and C.J. Connors.

Whitehouse will be competing at the 10 a.m wave on Saturday morning with plenty of support from his therapist, family and friends.

Visit gaylord.org/sports for more information. Gaylord Sports is the beneficiary of the Gauntlet, which is expected to raise $25,000.



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