Transverse myelitis is a spinal cord injury that has no cure. But, it can be overcome! Learn how a teenage girl recovered from the paralyzing effects of transverse myelitis to run cross country at her high school.
Yesterday I wrote about how Stacy Lewis overcame a spinal cord deformation to rock the golfing world in How the Best Womens’ Golfer in the World Overcame Childhood Scoliosis.
Today, I happened upon an article about a high school student who recovered from transverse myelitis – a serious spinal cord injury that causes all sorts of pain, weakness, and bladder and bowel dysfunction.
Not only is Jen Starzec running, she also wrote a book with another survivor who recovered from transverse myelitis. That’s Sarah Todd, in the picture!
How Jen Recovered From Transverse Myelitis
“I was a righty. I had to learn to write with my left hand,” says Jen, a high school student in Grayslake, Illinois. She also did a lot of typing on her iPad, and used it to co-author a book called 5K, Ballet, and a Spinal Cord Injury with Sarah Todd. Sarah is also a transverse myelitis patient, and she is not fully recovered. She is still paralyzed in her arms and legs. She and Jen heard about each other on Facebook, and their moms connected so they could co-write the book about how they are coping with their spinal cord injuries.
At that is in itself a cool New Beginning! If you’re struggling with a spinal cord injury like transverse myelitis and you feel isolated and alone, please reach out for help. Use blogs, websites, and online forums for people with spinal cord injuries, and connect with people who are recovering from transverse myelitis. Who knows – maybe you’ll write your own book about recovering from a spinal cord injury.
In this article, I share how Jen was diagnosed with and recovered from this spinal cord injury. I’ll also share a bit of information about the signs, symptoms of transverse myelitis, and link to resources for people diagnosed with this spinal cord injury.
The diagnosis. Jen also has Crohn’s Disease, which may have compromised her immune system and made her susceptible to transverse myelitis. There is no exact known cause of this spinal cord injury, but it involves inflammation that damages the nerve fibers of the spinal cord. Viral infections or abnormal immune reactions – such as what Crohn’s could trigger – may also cause transverse myelitis. Jen woke up one day with intense pain in her neck that then spread to her shoulders and legs. She was paralyzed from the neck down.
Jen’s body was attacking her spine. She was screaming in pain when she first experienced the effects of transverse myelitis, and was rushed to the hospital. She couldn’t sit up; an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) showed the diagnosis of this spinal cord injury. According to the article, the only known treatments for transverse myelitis are plasma exchange and steroids. The doctors treated Jen’s spinal cord injury with Prednisone, and the inflammation on her spinal cord improved. Jen slowly started to walk again. Her spinal cord injury was mostly in her upper back, so her arms were more affected than her legs.
Recovering from transverse myelitis. Jen’s physical therapy sessions helped her recover from this spinal cord injury, but her right arm still suffers from muscle atrophy. “It still hurts my hand a lot to type for a long time,” she says. It also hurts her back to sit for long periods of time, and she sleeps with a brace on her right arm for support. She signed up for the cross country track team about a year after her diagnosis of transverse myelitis, but found it more difficult to train in the winter. “I wasn’t really training much in the winter. It was hard to build back up to where I was at the end of last year’s season,” Jen says. “I kind of have to start from scratch.”
The complications of transverse myelitis: scoliosis and osteoporosis. Unfortunately, it’s one disease often causes complications and triggers other diseases. In addition to chronic pain, Jen is also coping with scoliosis and osteoporosis. She’s taking various medications, including pain meds. Through all of the tests – including MRIs and spinal taps – and her recovery from this spinal cord injury, Jen has stayed resilient. Her mom says she has a very strong will!
Raising money for the Transverse Myelitis Association. Now, the Starzec family is focusing on raising awareness about transverse myelitis. They plan to walk in the Illinois Walk-Run-N-Roll event in Downers Grove. Jen will read an excerpt from her book at the event.
To read Sarah Todd’s journey with this spinal cord injury, read How to Deal With Transverse Myelitis – Tips From a Young Girl. She was only 8 when she was diagnosed with Transverse Myelitis.
Information About Transverse Myelitis
What is transverse myelitis? Transverse myelitis is a neurological disorder caused by inflammation across both sides of one segment of the spinal cord. The term “myelitis” refers to inflammation of the spinal cord; “transverse” simply describes the position of the inflammation in the spinal cord. Attacks of inflammation can damage or destroy myelin, the fatty insulating substance that covers nerve cell fibers. This damage causes nervous system scars that interrupt communications between the nerves in the spinal cord and the rest of the body.
What are the symptoms of transverse myelitis? Symptoms of transverse myelitis include a loss of spinal cord function over several hours to several weeks. What usually begins as a sudden onset of lower back pain, muscle weakness, or abnormal sensations in the toes and feet can rapidly progress to more severe symptoms, including paralysis, urinary retention, and loss of bowel control. Although some patients recover from transverse myelitis with minor or no residual problems, others suffer permanent impairments that affect their ability to perform ordinary tasks of daily living. Most patients will have only one episode of transverse myelitis; a small percentage may have a recurrence.
Sources: The information about Jen recovering from transverse myelitis is from GCHS Student Overcame Spinal Cord Injury, Paralysis to Run Again by Korrina Grom. The information about diagnosis and treating transverse myelitis – including symptoms – is from the Transverse Myelitis Fact Sheet from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website.
If you have any thoughts on recovering from a spinal cord injury such as transverse myelitis, please comment below!