Diagnosis: Transverse Myelitis

Illinois, United States

Four years ago, I was beginning my college career at Indiana University, enjoying life as a college student training to run a half-marathon. Everything was going well, until the week before midterms when I began to have a sore throat and high fever. A few days passed, but I still couldn’t break my fever. I was forced to skip midterms and drive home to Chicago to see my doctor. I got tested for the usual viruses, which all came back negative. To play it safe, they put me on an oral steroid, prednisone. Luckily, my body responded well to the steroid, and I started to feel better.

I felt strong enough to go on spring break to Florida with my family. However, I finished my steroid pack on the third day of the trip. Soon after, I began to have pain and a tingling sensation in my feet. Within hours, the tingling turned into lower extremity paralysis, and I could no longer walk without being held up. While I didn’t know it at the time, transverse myelitis (TM) was beginning to take over my body.

I cannot say I am lucky for having TM. But I am lucky to have several family members that are medical professionals, specifically my cousin who is a malpractice lawyer and my dad who is a physician. Thirteen years prior to my TM diagnosis, my cousin asked my father to review a case where his client who had TM was misdiagnosed and became paralyzed instantly. As my father reviewed my symptoms, he matched mine to those of that case. Immediately, he gave me an oral dose of prednisone, booked a 5:00 am flight back to Chicago, and took me straight to the emergency room for an MRI and spinal tap.

On March 17, 2012, I was diagnosed with TM. My father’s quick response and incredible knowledge in medicine saved me from becoming paralyzed. Although it took months of physical therapy to regain my strength, with the support of family and friends, I made a full recovery. I graduated from IU, completed my first triathlon this August, and I have started my first year of graduate school to get a Masters in Occupational Therapy from Midwestern University.

My story would have had a very different ending if my father had not recognized my symptoms, allowing an early diagnosis. I was lucky, but so many others with TM are not as fortunate. It is crucial that we raise awareness about this rare, neuroimmune disease, so others have the opportunity to fight. TM has changed my family’s and my life for forever, but I am pursuing my dreams of becoming an occupational therapist with the goal to one-day help patients with stories similar to mine make a full recovery.

Alyssa Charman