Portuguese man endures 43yrs in wheelchair after wrong diagnosis

© Carlos Jasso
A man who spent over four decades in a wheelchair learned to walk again after learning that doctors misdiagnosed him with muscular dystrophy at the age of 13. The man actually suffers from a much less severe illness which can be managed with medication.

Rufino Borrego was diagnosed with incurable muscular dystrophy at a Lisbon hospital, according to Portuguese newspaper Jornal de Noticias. 

Accepting his fate, Borrego used a wheelchair to get around that entire time.

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But in 2010, decades after Borrego had come to terms with the fact that he would never walk again, a neurologist told him that he didn’t actually have muscular dystrophy. Instead, he suffered from a different disease that weakens the muscles, known as myasthenia.

If Borrego had been properly diagnosed at the time, he could have simply taken asthma medication to manage the illness, and would have had no need for a wheelchair.

It took just a year for Borrego, then in his 50s, to learn to walk again. His first journey was to his usual neighborhood cafe in the city of Alandroal, in Portugal’s southeast.

“We thought it was a miracle,” café owner Manuel Melao told the newspaper for its story, published Sunday.

Borrego now lives a normal life, requiring just two physiotherapy sessions a year.

Despite needlessly spending more than four decades in a wheelchair, Borrego says he has no ill feelings towards the hospital that made the original diagnosis, noting that myasthenia was a mostly-unknown condition in the 1960s.

“I just want to make use of my life,” the now-61-year-old told the daily.

Muscular dystrophy causes a progressive weakness and loss of muscle mass, leading to increased disability. Many with the disease lose the ability to walk, and some have trouble breathing or swallowing. While myasthenia can also lead to varying degrees of weakness of the voluntary muscles of the body, many lead normal lives with the disease.

In some cases, myasthenia can go into remission and muscle weakness can disappear so that medications can be discontinued.