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Former House Speaker Bense diagnosed with rare nervous system condition

Former House Speaker Allan Bense has been diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, an extremely rare condition affecting the peripheral nervous system, according to a statement released Friday night by his family.

Bense’s wife, Tonie, said she was overwhelmed with the support Bense has received since he was admitted to Shands Hospital in Gainesville on Monday.

“We are truly overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and support we’ve received over the last few days,” Tonie Bense said in a statement. “The prayers are working, and the flood of encouraging messages has lifted Allan’s spirit and mine.

“Allan continues to improve each day and with every passing hour, and his doctors expect a full recovery. We know the road ahead will not be without its challenges, but with the support and prayers of family and friends, and the excellent medical care he is receiving, we are confident Allan will soon be back to work and back to enjoying time with our grandchildren.”

Bense, 61, served in the Florida House from 1998 to 2006 and was Speaker from 2004 to 2006. He currently serves as chairman of the board for Florida State University’s board of trustees. He is the father-in-law of Will Weatherford, Florida’s current Speaker of the House. Weatherford married Bense’s daughter, Courtney, in 2006.

Bense has had prior health issues, including a “serious bout with pancreatic disease” a few years ago, according to WJHG, Channel 7, the NBC affiliate in Panama City. Here's a description of the condition according to a Mayo Clinic link provided Friday by his family:

Guillain-Barre (ghee-YA-buh-RAY) syndrome is a disorder in which your body's immune system attacks your nerves. Weakness and tingling in your extremities are usually the first symptoms. These sensations can quickly spread, eventually paralyzing your whole body. In its most severe form, Guillain-Barre syndrome is a medical emergency requiring hospitalization.

The exact cause of Guillain-Barre syndrome is unknown, but it is often preceded by an infectious illness such as a respiratory infection or the stomach flu. Luckily, Guillain-Barre syndrome is uncommon, affecting only 1 or 2 people per 100,000.

There's no known cure for Guillain-Barre syndrome, but several treatments can ease symptoms and reduce the duration of the illness. Most people recover from Guillain-Barre syndrome, though some may experience lingering effects from it, such as weakness, numbness or fatigue.