Sarah Todd

Diagnosis: Transverse Myelitis

Georgia, United States

With my hair in a braid, a smile on my face, and the dance in my heart and mind, I flew across the stage, savoring the exhilarating feeling of doing what I adored most, ballet. There has always been something special to me about performing for an audience, but this time it was different. Unlike the dozens of other times I had performed, this time I had a spinal cord injury, but that was the only difference from the other times—a smile was still on my face, I performed my absolute best, and I was truly happy. All of these things were true during my ballet class on April 19, 2010, when I, very suddenly, got an excruciating headache and was forced to leave class.  Before I left the studio, my arms and hands didn’t work—they became paralyzed. Within 16 hours, I was paralyzed from the neck-down—a quadriplegic.

Transverse Myelitis was no longer a mystery diagnosis I had never heard of before; Transverse Myelitis was something I was trying to overcome. Being only eight years old, I was scared, of course, but didn’t realize the severity of the situation. I knew I’d be able to walk again when I moved my big toe. My upper body, however, was a different story with my right hand working only slightly, my left hand paralyzed, and arms working only a little bit.

The saying usually goes, “everything happens for a reason,” but I like to change that to “most things happen for a reason,” simply because too many bad things happen every day for “everything happens for a reason” to be true. I truly do believe that Transverse Myelitis affected me for a reason, maybe even more. Though I can’t be certain of what the reason(s) is/are yet, I have some ideas. First, through SRNA’s family camps and online pages, I’ve met some amazing people, specifically Jen Starzec, who I see as my older sister. Next, after meeting Jen, I discovered my love of writing, and Jen and I wrote and published two books about our experiences with TM: 5k, Ballet, and a Spinal Cord Injury and our newly published Determination.  In addition, because TM has brought some difficult times for me, like my recent spinal fusion surgery, I listen to music to help me through the tough times, which resulted in One Direction becoming my favorite band. They and their music make me happy when nothing else can, taking all my worries away when I’m having a hard time. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to meet them and tell them all about my journey with TM and how they’ve helped me through it, as well as give them one of my books. Finally, I realized my passion for choreography, recreating dances I already knew in order to make them more compatible for my body.

It’s important to stay positive because TM does not define me. Transverse Myelitis makes the way I live a little different, but I’m okay with that because every day, I walk around with a smile on my face and do what I need to do, just as I did six and a half years earlier. I’m still the same ballerina I was before, now writer, music-lover, and choreographer as well.

Sarah Todd Hammer