Golfer finds success at Missouri State Senior Games

Friday, June 8, 2012 | 8:10 p.m. CDT; updated 5:56 p.m. CDT, Monday, March 11, 2013
Golfer Bob Patterson won the silver medal at this year's Missouri State Senior Games, despite recovering from a rare disease, Guillain-Barre syndrome.

COLUMBIA — Bob Patterson raised his club into the air and came down through the golf ball that rested 150 yards away from the hole. It soared into the air until it skipped off the rough near No. 4 and bounced onto the green.

Patterson approached his ball and lined up a birdie putt, rolling it to within an inch of the hole. He was still able to tap it in for par and win the hole during the Missouri State Senior Games on Friday at Lake of the Woods Golf Course.

"OK par hitter!" fellow golfer Dan Schulte yelled to Patterson on the next tee box.

Patterson, 59, has not heard the words "par hitter" as much as he would like in the past year. It's not because of a lack of skill. Instead, it is due to a diagnosis.

At the end of September 2011, Bob Patterson was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome, or ascending paralysis.

According to the Mayo Clinic, Guillain-Barre syndrome is a disorder in which the immune system attacks nerves in the body. The exact cause is still unknown and there is no known cure. This type of paralysis affects only one to two people out of every 100,000.

"It's a rarity. Not everyone comes back 100 percent, but you do what you can," Patterson said.

Patterson and his wife, Debbie, had seen a friend deal with the disorder. They were both prepared for the diagnosis, but it still came as a shock.

"He woke up one morning and his legs wouldn't do what he wanted them to do," Debbie Patterson said. Within 12 hours, he was paralyzed from his neck to his feet.

His doctor was skeptical and ordered an MRI, which showed numerous injuries that Patterson had suffered from sports in the past. Five days after first going to the hospital, he was diagnosed.

Patterson spent the next six weeks in the hospital. He was put on a feeding tube because he couldn't swallow water, and he tore his rotator cuff in the hospital. A person diagnosed with Guillain-Barre does not lose feeling with the paralysis, so Patterson was in a lot of pain while in the hospital. 

Patterson began treatment and therapy twice a day. The first step was plasmapheresis, which exchanges old plasma in the blood for new plasma. In a span of two weeks, he underwent plasmapheresis five times. After the first treatment, he started to regain feeling in his fingers.

Though Patterson was regaining feeling in his body, he still was not able to play sports. The recovery process was not easy, and he really missed golf.

"I had to learn to walk, and feed, and bathe all over again," Patterson said.

Patterson could not have started recovering without his wife. She didn't leave his side for more than an hour at a time for an entire month. He couldn't even lift his finger to call the nurse or change the TV channels during football season. Being able to hold the remote control was one of the biggest moments for him, his wife said.

His stints in the hospital were not over.

Patterson was released from the hospital on Nov. 11. After Thanksgiving, he was taken back to the hospital in an ambulance after being unable to move from the couch.

"It was like a bowl full of Jell-0. All muscle control was gone," he said. "I couldn't even talk. I could understand, but that was it."

He spent three more days in the hospital starting over with his physical therapy. His therapist started with exercise on the edge of his bed and eventually moved to exercises in the hallway.

Finally by March, he was ready to golf. He started going to the driving range at Perche Creek Golf Club where he took lessons with a professional.  

Patterson was forced to change his game. He had to learn new ways to stand, move and swing because his balance was off from the paralysis.

"It's hard to maintain balance when learning how to use your muscles again," Patterson said.

By the time of the Missouri State Senior Games, he had played five times on the course. He says his legs were only back 75 to 80 percent of their mobility and strength. His core had recovered even less.

Though he is back on the course, it is not without pain. On Friday, he experienced a little pain in his back and shoulder. He says he is tired when he leaves work and has difficulty sleeping at night. His body still feels the effects of paralysis.

"My nerves still aren't 100 percent healed," he said.

But Patterson is happy to be back in action because sports have always been a part of his life.

He began playing golf in 1976. Patterson also participated in football, rugby, wrestling, baseball, softball and volleyball in the past. Before the diagnosis, he swam one to two miles every morning before work and played golf about twice a month.

Patterson made the senior golf tournament, his third, the goal for recovery. He knew exactly what his inspiration was — his 3-year-old grandson, Robbie.

One day while Patterson was coming home, Robbie was determined to help his grandfather out of the car. He pushed his grandmother out of the way, grabbed Patterson's legs and lifted them out of the car. Patterson knew he had no choice but to get better.

"There's no way I want to be down and out with him around," he said.

Patterson proved Friday that he was no longer down and out. Even though he shot a score higher than his norm before the diagnosis, he still walked away from the Missouri State Senior Games with a silver medal in his division.

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John Schreiber June 9, 2012 | 4:56 p.m.

Missourian, can you please get a slideshow template that does not display captions over the photos? Or at least have the option to hide the captions? There is nothing more annoying that trying to view slideshows when captions cover parts of the photo.


Frustrated Missourian and Photo J Alum

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