Sarah Dudley

Diagnosis: Transverse Myelitis

Tennessee, United States

On April 18, 2008, my life took an unexpected turn. I was 19 years old and was involved in many sports, particularly soccer. While I was home for spring break during my freshman year of college, I went to get a cortisone injection for a sore shoulder. After the injection, I had an adverse reaction that led to paralysis and spasticity. It was one of those rare events and none of my doctors knew what had happened. It took six months before I was diagnosed with Transverse Myelitis at the C6-C7 spinal level. Before my neurologist at Vanderbilt University made the diagnosis, I went to multiple doctors and underwent many tests with normal results.

My symptoms were consistent with Transverse Myelitis; weakness, neurogenic bladder, loss of sensation, nerve pain, and spasticity. I was in a wheelchair for about four years. After I got a baclofen pump implanted, I was able to gain movement back. This was life changing for me. I was finally able to make progress in physical therapy once my spasticity was under control. After my diagnosis of TM, I transferred to a college closer to home and kept pursuing a degree in biology. Going to school was one of the only things I could control at the time. I graduated cum laude in December 2012 and was able to walk across the stage with my Lofstrand crutches. Throughout this whole process, I have never let anything stop me. I am now in Physician Assistant school in TN and plan to graduate in August 2018. My hope is to work in the field of neurology. I am so thankful for the progress I have made with the help of my physicians, physical and occupational therapists and my wonderful family and friends. I am especially thankful for the Transverse Myelitis Association’s website, which encouraged me to continue searching for proper treatment of my condition. Additionally, SRNA camp provided me with much needed support and educational information.

It was very difficult adjusting to life with a diagnosis that was so hard to confirm and one that very few doctors in my hometown knew much about. Also, letting go of things I loved to do was another hard part of this journey for me. I lived a very active lifestyle prior to my diagnosis and no longer being able to play sports was very challenging. There were times when I would have to cancel plans with friends when I was in the wheelchair because of the fear of it being too much for them, and because I was exhausted from physical therapy and being in a constant spasm. I will always grieve my losses to an extent, but I have turned that energy and focus into doing well in school. I have found other hobbies that I enjoy, like going to movies and sporting events with family and friends.

I hope to see the day when there is a cure for Transverse Myelitis and other rare neuroimmune disorders. Medical professionals need to be educated more on these disorders because being diagnosed in a timely manner is crucial. Lastly, I hope that individuals with similar situations are able to continue living their life to the fullest despite their diagnosis.

Sarah Dudley