Teacher returns to classroom after battling illness

Barry Guillot is back to doing what he loves - teaching.

The early morning alarm clock leads into what feels like a day-to-day grind for most people in their workplace — but Barry Guillot could not be more thrilled to be back in his classroom, where he belongs.

“A lot of people hate to go to work. I couldn’t wait to go back,” Guillot said. “I just really missed being with the kids.”

Guillot, a science teacher at Harry Hurst Middle School, is well-known for his gregarious personality, ability to connect with students and for his work with the Wetlands Watchers, which he founded to provide the opportunity for middle school students to enjoy nature and get involved in positive environmental projects.

But last year, a scary discovery about his health forced Guillot to put his teaching and love of nature adventures to the side. After dealing with an array of physical ailments that began cropping up in March, including a drop foot, paralyzed leg, fatigue, shortness of breath and overall pain, he visited a doctor. He was routed to a surgeon and then a neurologist.

It took several blood tests, MRIs, CT scans and even three spinal taps for his diagnosis to be determined: he was afflicted with Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS), a neurological disorder that affects an estimated one in 100,000 a year. It causes the body’s immune system to mistakenly attack the nervous system or network of nerves outside of the brain and spinal cord. The cause is unknown and there is no known cure.

GBS can also be fatal.

“During the summer, I wasn’t completely sure I’d be here today,” Guillot said. “Then, as it progressed, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to walk again.”

“I love all my kids. After what I’ve been through, it really lets you appreciate the important things in life.” – Barry Guillot

But he’s a fighter. Guillot worked hard and though he isn’t removed from all the physical symptoms of GBS – he says parts of his midsection are paralyzed and he hopes to regain use of his left foot — by October, he felt ready to return to his Hurst family.

He initially planned to take things very slow and ease in with a week of half-days. But after two half-days, he decided to try a full-time return for day three and beyond.

“That Monday, I gave it a try. I was worn out by the end of the day, but it was such a joyous feeling to be back in the classroom,” Guillot said. “Sometimes, when I walk up to the classroom, I’ll accidentally take out my house keys and put it in the door. It feels like home.

“It’s just such a special feeling to be a teacher, and an honor to be able to make an impact on their lives.”

While Guillot said he’s always been thought of as laid back, he said he can still feel a difference in his anxiety level, which he noted is lower than ever, even in spite of the struggle he’s dealt with and is dealing with health wise.

“I find I don’t get as anxious. I think it’s because I really just feel thankful to be here,” Guillot said.

He’s already back to his usual volunteer efforts and is eager to participate in school activities, whatever they might be.

His students have also warmly received him. He said he was floored at the reception he’s had, even before his return to Hurst, such as when Destrehan High student Taylor Brown held a fundraiser in his honor. The teacher had a gymnasium full of supporters that day.

“I love all my kids. After what I’ve been through, it really lets you appreciate the important things in life,” he said. “It was not a fun summer. I feel very lucky to be where I am, but I want to work even harder to get where I need to be. I want to make sure I’m healthy enough to enjoy this and for my kids to enjoy this 100 percent.”

Barry Guillot

  • Barry Guillot is a science teacher at Harry Hurst Middle School and the creator of the local Wetlands Watchers program.
  • After seeing a doctor to address several health problems that began cropping up in March of last year, Guillot was referred to a surgeon and then a neurologist to find the cause.
  • Following several blood tests, MRIs, CT scans and three spinal taps, he learned he was afflicted with Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS), a neurological disorder that affects an estimated one in 100,000 a year.
  • Guillot fought past his major initial worries and has become well enough to make a full-time return to Hurst.

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