Have you ever stopped to consider how many of us take our good health for granted? We live and love and labor, usually blissfully unaware of the bodily processes that sustain us until they fail.
Paralympian and all-around media sensation Victoria Arlen had to come to terms with ill health at a very young age. According to an article she penned for ESPN, her physical state began to decline at a shocking rate when she was only 11 years old.
When her back and sides began to bother her, physicians performed an appendectomy. Yet soon after, she began to lose feeling in her legs and hands, and lose the ability to speak and swallow.
“It was as if someone was slowly shutting down the switches on the circuit board that controlled my body and brain,” she wrote. “I was slowly slipping away from my family.”
The New York Post reported that doctors would eventually learn that two extremely uncommon inflammatory disorders had caused Arlen’s issues. They’d caused her brain and spinal cord to swell.
Eventually, she slipped into a coma for two years. When Arlen awakened, she discovered that she couldn’t control any part of her body, not even her eyes.
However, she was completely cognizant and utterly aware of what went on around her. Only no one else knew it.
“I was terrified,” she told “Megyn Kelley Today.” “There’s no worse feeling than being aware, but not being able to communicate or give your family any sign that you’re in there.”
The doctors informed Arlen’s mother, Jacqueline, that her daughter wouldn’t survive. “I saw my mom cry, the only time I saw her cry,” Arlen said.
She decided that her story was not going to end that way. “That’s when I wanted to say, ‘Mommy, I’m going to get back to you, I promise.’”
Arlen obviously did get back, but it wasn’t due to a premeditated course of treatment. Rather, a failed solution to one of her problems ended up giving her new life.
Stuck in an insomniac state, Arlen had begun to have seizures for 20 hours each and every day. Physicians decided that the best thing to do would be to prescribe something that would help her sleep.
Only the medication didn’t work as intended. “It stopped the seizure and somehow targeted the neurotransmitter that was misfiring, and so I realized that I had control of my eyes,” she said.
Arlen’s ability to function slowly returned to her. From making eye contact with her mother to making guttural groans to twitching an index finger, she eventually regained almost full control her body.
However, her legs still wouldn’t function. Specialists repeatedly told her that she should accept her state and resign herself to a wheelchair.
But Arlen refused. She began to swim, winning a gold medal in 2012 with the USA Paralympic swim team, and continued with years of intensive physical therapy.
In 2016, she was able to walk again, albeit with some lingering impairment. Still, it was enough for her to compete on ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars.”
“I was written off as a lost cause,” she said. “But I’m living proof that miracles can happen.”
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