Misdiagnosis puts Portuguese man in a wheelchair for 43 years

A chance appointment with a new doctor saw a man who had spent 43 years of his life in a wheelchair suddenly realise it had all been unnecessary.

Thanks to well-known asthma medicine Ventilan, Rufino Borrego – now aged 61 – is back on his feet, walking almost perfectly, and at last able to lead a normal life.

It is a story that still warms the heart of neurologist Teresinha Evangelista, who now works at the Institute of Genetic Medicine at Newcastle University in the UK.

According to reports, Evangelista met Borrego during a routine consultation at Lisbon’s Santa Maria Hospital.

She doubted the original diagnosis of “progressive multiple dystrophy”, handed to Borrego and his aghast family back in the 70s, and sought tests which had to be done in Germany.

When these came back, Evangelista’s queries were answered.

It was not a progressive muscular dystrophy at all, but myasthenia gravis, a congenital disorder that was eminently treatable.

Today, Borrego does two sessions of physiotherapy a week, and takes three doses of Ventilan (based on beta-blocker salbutamol) a day, with meals.

He guards no rancour for those decades of missed opportunities, he says, as “correct diagnoses were difficult in those days”.

What the former health centre employee does wonder at, nonetheless, are the multiple times he “handled hundreds of requests for Ventilan”.
“If I had known then. What would life have been”, he wonders.

Borrego has explained what it was like the first day he took Ventilan. “I could feel my whole body feel lighter. I went to bed and the next day I started to walk without the chair. When I woke up, I didn’t even need crutches…”

In his hometown of Alandroal (Tomar), people are still talking about “the miracle” of the asthma medication that raised a man from life in a wheelchair.

But the truth is his condition has no ‘cure’, it is simply responding to treatment.

“I just hope it keeps giving those results”, he says.