September 30th, 2011
11:00 AM ET
By Rick Martin, CNN
(CNN) - Former NFL quarterback and college football great Danny Wuerffel faced epic battles on the football field, but now he is facing the toughest in his life, and he is relying on his faith to get him through.
Wuerffel recently announced he was hospitalized and diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a rare disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks part of the nervous system, according to the National Institute’s of Health website.
GBS, as it’s more commonly called, can be life-threatening. In some cases it can interfere with breathing and is considered a medical emergency, according to the NIH website.
There is no known cure for Guillain-Barre syndrome.
Wuerffel starred as quarterback for the University of Florida from 1993 to 1996.
He led the team to a national championship in 1996 and four Southeastern Conference (SEC) titles.
His leadership, strength and agility at quarterback were recognized in 1996 when he was awarded the Heisman Trophy, college football’s highest honor for an individual player.
Wuerffel was drafted to the NFL by the New Orleans Saints. His pro career was less successful. He battled concussions, bruises and short-term injuries.
None of that could prepare him for the fight he is about to embark on.
At a weeklong high school football symposium at Georgia Tech, Wuerffel spoke to the young players about his football experiences and his dream come true of playing in the NFL.
Wuerffel had a soft-spoken approach with the players. He spoke highly of his love for Jesus Christ and his passion to help others.
He shared a story of being hit so hard he lost his sight temporarily.
As the crowd of student athletes listened quietly, Wuerffel went on to describe how a teammate picked him up and helped him adjust his helmet.
He had been hit so hard that his helmet turned all the way around his head. His face mask was at the back of his head. The audience broke out in laughter as Wuerffel smiled.
But this latest battle is no laughing matter.
“Definitely, one of the toughest battles I’m facing in my life,” Wuerffel said.
“This has been one of the worst and one of the best experiences in my life. I really feel how often a very driven and active person gets the opportunity to sit back for three months and reflect on priorities."
"Often we don’t get this opportunity, but I’ve been able to learn and refocus a lot of important things in my life, and this would not have been the case if I had remained busy,” Wuerffel said.
“I lived in New Orleans, Louisiana, during Hurricane Katrina. Me and my family, we lost our home six years ago and that was obviously tough, but this hit a little closer to home and having the feeling of being helpless. My faith is getting me through,” Wuerffel said.
At 37, Wuerffel is married with three kids, ages 7, 5, and 2. He not only relies on his Christian faith to get through the tough times, but also, “phenomenal support is getting me through; hundreds and hundreds of cards I have received have been very encouraging.”
“This has been an incredible opportunity for my faith to grow,” Wuerffel said. “I feel that I have had the opportunity to learn more about myself and the Lord in the last three months than the last several years."
“We usually don’t change when we are in business-as-usual mode.”
An athlete accustomed to competing at the highest level, Wuerffel now struggles with the basics. “I’m not doing as much as I used to, I struggle with energy and fatigue at this point."
“The challenging thing about this is the feeling of being helpless. My kids would ask to go to the pool and I couldn’t, and it was even really hard to walk to the bathroom. It’s been three-and-a-half months. As a football player, you get to enjoy quick recoveries,” Wuerffel said
“In football, you can just about endure anything for a short period of time - short burst of energy, pain, and you move on. This is much more of a slow grind. The recovery has been more of a marathon than a sprint and that has been challenging."
Wuerffel was shocked at how suddenly the illness came. It happened while he was visiting a ministry in Montgomery, Alabama, over the summer. For a man skilled at using his speed to evade tacklers and strength to escape defenders with his legs, Wuerffel was not prepared for what happened.
“One morning I got out of bed and I almost fell over, my legs were very week and wobbly. We were visiting a ministry in the inner city ... and (I) went and saw a doctor on a Thursday. After running some tests, he suspected I might have Guillain-Barre Syndrome, so on Friday at 5 a.m., the doctor drove in the middle of the night in the inner city and knocked on the door to make sure I was breathing.”
Today Wuerffel is the executive director of Desire Street Ministries, an independent, Christian, nonprofit group that works in inner-city areas to make them more desirable places to live. He travels all over the Southeast to support various ministry initiatives in inner cities.
Despite the struggles Wuerffel is facing, he said he is sustained by his faith and presses on with the task at hand.
He ended his latest newsletter by noting how thankful he is.
"I’m finding that my physical struggles with Guillain-Barre have forced me to re-evaluate some of the ways I deal with the struggles and frustrations of life," he wrote. "It’s forcing me to trust in my Creator, sustainer, friend and Savior. It’s not easy, but it is a beautiful thing! And I’m thankful."
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.