Laura was 30-years-old and 7 months pregnant when she delivered her second child via emergency C-section in November 2012. Despite experiencing gradually worsening back pain within 24 hours of delivery, she was sent home 3 days after her son's birth.
Once home, Laura's back pain worsened despite prescription pain medicine, and she began losing strength until she was unable to bear her own weight.
Thirty-six hours after she was discharged, Laura was back in the hospital, where she learned that she had developed transverse myelitis, a spinal cord infection.
The effects were devastating. Laura lost all feeling in her legs and became paralyzed from the waist down. She thought she might spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair.
"I was given no hope that I would walk again," Laura said. "It was suggested we sell our house for a 1-story house and get a car with hand controls.
"I believe I was in shock—having just given birth, and hearing this diagnosis. Being in shock may have gotten me through that moment, rather than process how overwhelming the situation was with a newborn and a 2-year-old at home."
Laura spent 5 weeks in the hospital; complications from the pregnancy kept her on bedrest for 3 of those weeks, delaying physical therapy until her last 2 weeks in the hospital. During the course of her stay, Laura began to experience involuntary leg movement, and some of the feeling in her legs returned.
Once home, she began work with a rehabilitation physician, and then a home health physical therapist. Her next breakthrough was when she moved the big toe on her right foot.
After 3 weeks at home, Laura transitioned from home care to an outpatient physical therapy facility, which she visited several times a week. There, she attempted to walk while supporting herself on parallel bars. Eventually, she progressed to walking with the assistance of knee and ankle braces and a walker.
Holidays, such as Easter and Mother's Day, served as markers to set and accomplish goals of becoming stronger and more independent. But Laura also learned the importance of adapting when things would not go as planned.
"One of the most important lessons was to not let yourself get emotionally devastated when a goal was not achieved by a specific time, which could derail you completely," she said. "You had to keep going, knowing that it would happen, as long as you kept at it."
To further motivate her, Laura would draw upon her family's motto: "Never give up, never surrender," which was featured on a plaque in her family room. "I would look at it while I was crawling across the floor in our family room."
The most touching accomplishment came on July 4, 2014, when the family removed the outdoor ramp that once helped a wheelchair-bound Laura access her house. "It was truly my own independence day," she said.
Three years later, Laura continues to progress.
She can walk unassisted for 126 steps at physical therapy, and she has about 90% of the feeling back in her legs.
"I want to be the best mom I can be," Laura said. "My kids are my main driving force to make me want to do everything with them. Now, I'm at the point where I can take care of the kids by myself. It's been a huge part of getting my independence back."
"It's been an amazing journey. Our families have been supportive, rotating turns to help care for my family. And my neurologic physical therapists from Premier Physical Therapy in Blue Ash, Ohio, are so knowledgeable. It's been incredible to see what they have been able to do (with me)."
Physical therapists are movement experts who improve quality of life through hands-on care, patient education, and prescribed movement. You can contact a physical therapist directly for an evaluation. To locate a physical therapist in your area, visit Find a PT.