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Getting Back on the Bike

In November 2009, Sue Martin was a healthy, active individual. She was an avid bicyclist traveling a minimum of 20 miles each ride, enjoyed kick boxing classes, had recently lost 40 pounds and was by her own account, in the best fitness shape of her adult life.

While at work one afternoon, Sue noticed that both of her feet had suddenly started to tingle almost as if they had fallen asleep. After work, the tingling sensation had continued up the calves of both legs and eventually, began to work its way to her hip area, causing her to have problems walking. Sue knew then that it was something serious.  Arriving in the emergency room, she could feel the sensation continue to progress up her body, moving just below her lowest rib.  

The physicians at the hospital immediately began performing a series of tests including a spinal tap, CT scans and MRIs. They were baffled. The next day, Sue was transferred to a trauma hospital and spent five days in ICU as the doctors struggled to determine the cause of the paralysis. Additional MRIs finally revealed a lesion in her spine at T5 and T6. She was diagnosed with transverse myelitis.

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders, transverse myelitis is a neurological disorder that is caused by inflammation of the spinal cord. The inflammation can damage or destroy myelin, the fatty insulating substance that covers nerve cell fibers, causing scarring in the nervous system that interrupts communication between the nerves in the spinal cord and the rest of the body.

Sue was unable to walk and not able to control her legs. “They felt as if they belonged to someone else,” she said recently. “When the staff would stand me up, I couldn’t feel the floor. It was scary.” 

The physicians discussed with Sue and her husband the need to begin intensive rehabilitation to hopefully reverse the paralysis she was experiencing. Sue insisted on being transferred to Marianjoy.

 “Almost immediately, the therapists at Marianjoy had me up and trying to walk,” Sue recalls. “I was motivated because I knew I wasn’t ready to spend the rest of my life in a wheelchair. The therapists were very positive and encouraging and I made up my mind I was going to work through this.” 

After two weeks at Marianjoy, Sue was making great progress and was discharged to continue therapy at the Marianjoy outpatient clinic in Oakbrook Terrace. Though she still has numbness and tingling from her ribs down, some feeling has returned. While she acknowledges the sensations in her lower extremities are not the same as before, she’s grateful for what she does have.  

“The staff at Marianjoy is just wonderful,” she states. “If a person needs any type of rehabilitation, for whatever reason, Marianjoy is absolutely, unequivocally the best place to be. I tell everyone I meet about the care I received. There is no question in my mind that if not for Marianjoy I would not have recovered as quickly and as well as I did.” 

Sue’s recovery has been nothing short of a miracle. She has returned to bike riding just six months after being paralyzed. It took a bit of time to get used to the new sensation of her feet on the pedals and the movement of her legs, but she has persevered.  Incredibly she recently completed a 17 mile cycling trip during the Bike the Drive event in Chicago.

 “I’m proud of myself for battling on and getting through this,” she confirms.  “Throughout this situation, I refused to let depression get in my head because I knew if it did, I would drown in it. I kept pushing it aside. I have a wonderful group of friends and prayer network helping me through. Between my husband’s support, and my friends volunteering to make meals for my family, I was able to concentrate on my recovery.  I’m going to continue to be thankful for what I have and continue to live my life to the fullest.”  

Sue welcomes comments or questions about her experience.  She may be reached at rlsmmartin@comcast.net