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Destiny Walks Again Two Years After Paralysis Strikes

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Destiny takes steps at University Hospitals Parma Medical Center

A young bride-to-be and schoolteacher who navigated a new life in a wheelchair was determined to walk again for her caregivers.

Two years after a mysterious virus attacked her nervous system, paralyzing her from the waist down, Destiny Porter returned to University Hospitals Parma Medical Center with a present for her caregivers.

Her caregivers gathered around her wheelchair, overjoyed to see this young woman who, on the verge of getting married and starting a new life, had been forced to learn how to navigate life as a paraplegic when she was just 25 years old. The ICU nurses and physical and occupational therapists from the Acute Rehabilitation Unit were eager to hear how Destiny had been faring.

Destiny announced she had a surprise – she then locked her wheelchair into place and rose to her feet. She took a step, then another, while her caregivers gasped, cried and screamed, “Oh, my goodness!” as tears sprang to their eyes.

“You made my whole day – actually, you made my year,” said ICU Medical Director Abdullah AlGhamdi, MD, the doctor who’d urgently called for the ECMO heart-lung machine from UH Cleveland Medical Center that fateful morning when Destiny was admitted to the Emergency Department. While conducting a cardiac ultrasound, Dr. AlGhamdi discovered that her ailing heart was failing to pump sufficient oxygenated blood to her vital organs. Without immediate intervention, he believed Destiny’s heart would stop.

He was right. Within an hour after an ECMO team transported Destiny to the CardioThoracic ICU at UH Cleveland Medical Center, she suffered a cardiac arrest.

Destiny woke up from a coma six days later, paralyzed. The virus had affected her spine and ability to walk. Her doctors felt that the longer Destiny went without walking, the less likely she’d be able to walk again. However, they never relinquished hope.

“The fight we had together, your charisma, you proved that if you want to make it, you can make it,” Dr. AlGhamdi told Destiny. “You’re one of the success stories. The fact that you’re back and walking is amazing.”

Determined to walk again

Destiny was two weeks away from her wedding day when this unexpected medical crisis occurred. She went from preparing for married life at the couple’s newly purchased Parma bungalow to learning how to move safely through her days in a wheelchair. Destiny would later learn that a virus she’d contracted sometime during the previous fall had given her Guillain-Barre syndrome, a disorder in which the immune system attacks the nerves. Her doctors believed this caused Type 1 diabetes and the acute diabetic ketoacidosis attack that spiraled her toward stress-induced cardiomyopathy (inability of the heart to pump blood efficiently) and resultant organ failure.

After 37 days in UH Parma’s Acute Rehab, Destiny was discharged to intensive Home Health Care. Over a period of eight months, she went from having therapy visits every day to every other day, followed by a therapy visit once a week before being discharged to outpatient therapy. Destiny spent another six months working with outpatient PT/OT in UH Parma’s Medical Arts Center 1.

“The biggest factor was not to let her dwell on the hill she had to climb, but to focus on each individual milestone, such as transferring to bed or bearing weight on her legs again,” said Lori Rohde, a Home Care physical therapist who worked with Destiny for eight months immediately following her discharge from the Acute Rehab. Lori recommended the leg braces that helped Destiny walk again.

Lori also worked closely with Occupational Therapy, particularly occupational therapist Kim Sladick, to push Destiny safely toward her goal of walking again. Lori said, “Destiny was always so motivated and open to trying new things, and she had amazing support from her family. She never tried to coast.”

Destiny was grateful that her therapists pushed her hard, because she knew she would benefit in the long run. They believed that if they could get her standing supported by leg braces to prevent her knees from buckling, that Destiny would walk again. By the time she was discharged from Home Care, Destiny was able to walk up and down the wheelchair ramp outside her home with a walker.

She cried on her last day of therapy.

“I felt confident in the tools they gave me, but I was missing my caregivers – their presence and support,” Destiny said, also grateful to her fiancé, who stood by her side through it all and married her on Valentine’s Day the following year. “I couldn’t have done it without the people here, and Home Health Care teaching me how to be a human being again.”

A teacher’s lesson

Destiny learned a great deal about resilience and the payoff of focused, hard work. She also learned to be patient with herself as she worked her way through each day. In addition, the elementary schoolteacher took a new job at a Cleveland charter school that has an elevator to accommodate physically challenged staffers.

Destiny teaches children ranging from Kindergarteners to second graders, instructing them in far more than just basic subjects. Having a physically challenged teacher determined to rise from her wheelchair and walk again is an unexpected lesson for her students.

“I’m so glad that, for many of my students, I am the first person they meet with this type of disability,” she said. “My experience opens doors for them, letting them to look at the world differently.”

Destiny told her therapy team that even though she no longer sees her caregivers every day in sessions, they are always with her – and through her, they are influencing another generation.

“I’m so thankful for you,” Destiny told the nurses and therapists gathered around her in support and celebration. “I think about you every day, I think about the things you taught me every day – one step at a time, baby steps. I say that to my students every day. It’s become part of who I am, and I am a better person – a better teacher – because of you guys. So thank you.”

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