No one was prepared for the first words of a young girl who suddenly woke up after 4 years in a coma.
Victoria Arlen grew up happy and healthy. She had two brothers and was born triplet who loved dancing and sports. Before tragedy struck, she had a promising future.
When Victoria was 11 years old, she started having unsettling flu symptoms. She began feeling dizzy and developed pneumonia. She lost her ability to move below the waist and her body started to shut down gradually within two weeks. She suffered from severe brain and spinal cord inflammation, and before she knew it, her life was ruined.
Her family stood by helplessly and watched her lose her ability to walk, talk and eat. But while this may sound like the sad end to a story, it turned out to be only the beginning.
For four years, Victoria was “locked” inside her own body. Her family was informed by the doctors that she was in a vegetative state and had a slim chance of surviving. Victoria had mentally “woken up” again, but no one knew that because she was unable to communicate with her body, she could hear them the entire time.
Despite the doctors declaring her brain-dead and declaring she would stay in a vegetative state for her entire life, Victoria defied the odds.
“But my parents believed in me. They set up a hospital room in our house in New Hampshire and took care of me. My three brothers — I’m a triplet and we have an older brother — talked to me and kept me in the know about what was going on outside of my room. They empowered me to fight and get stronger. They didn’t know I could hear them, but I could,” Victoria said.
However, in 2010, Victoria emerged from her vegetative state after nearly four years. It began with moving a finger and after she was finally able to make eye contact with her mother and blink on command, her remarkable recovery started, as she gradually regained control of her body, she was able to move a finger, which led to her hand waving. She even started to eat. She eventually began to speak again, first in single words, then in full sentences.
The specialists told Victoria it had caused permanent damage, paralyzing her from the waist down forever by the swelling to her brain and spinal cord, they continuously told her to get used to being in a wheelchair, but Victoria could no longer move her legs despite her incredible recovery.
As she struggled to overcome impossible odds, Victoria once again demonstrated a level of resolve that few others could even conceive. As she returned to school, she faced obstacles and even bullying. However, just as before, Victoria found the necessary turning point.
When doctors say there is no hope, some people might accept their fate, but not Victoria. She wasn’t going to let her terrible turn of events ruin her life, so she was determined to walk once more. She wasn’t destined to use a wheelchair for the rest of her life.
The moment Victoria’s life changed was when she rediscovers her love of swimming from her youth. Victoria had been an avid swimmer and a member of a team at the age of 10 because she had grown up near a lake. Victoria believed that she would never be able to swim again, but her brothers disagreed.
Her brothers watched as Victoria got the “jump” back in her life after throwing her into the family pool. She was shocked to find that she was still a strong swimmer and that she finally felt liberated from her wheelchair.
Victoria participated in the 2012 Paralympic Games as a member of the US team at the age of 17, winning one gold and three silver medals. She found freedom in the water, and she also regained her confidence.
She was still bothered by her wheelchair. As a result, she and her mother relocated to San Diego for Victoria to participate in the Project Walk program, which assists paralyzed people in regaining the ability to use their legs.
“We realized this was the place that could help me, but we didn’t want to live hundreds of miles away from my brothers and dad,” Victoria said, revealing that her “family decided to open the first Project Walk franchise on the East Coast.”
“This way, I could train every day and achieve my goal, while others in my hometown could regain the hope they needed,” She added.
Despite the fact that doctors were skeptical, and one doctor even told her parents that he wouldn’t “mortgage his house” to bet that Victoria would ever be able to walk again, that’s exactly what they did in order to open a Project Walk Boston. Victoria took her first small steps six years after she first “woke up,” while being held in a harness above a treadmill and assisted by two coaches.
“Walking is still challenging and I still have significant impairment,” she explained noting that she trained for hours every single day to reach her goal. Because of her determination, she was eventually able to walk with crutches, later ditching the assistive devices and walking independently. “But my struggle is now less visible.”
“But it’s all worth it,” She added.
Referring to the unfortunate position she finds herself in when seated in a wheelchair, “It’s been 10 years since I was able to look someone in the eye instead of staring at everyone’s butts all day,” she said.
Victoria Arlen has proven to be an inspiration to millions after an extremely difficult ten years. She is living proof that there is always hope and that if you work hard and want something badly enough, anything is possible. She defied all odds to get to where she is now. She is now a Paralympic gold medalist and an ESPN sports channel program leader.
“ I didn’t do this on my own, and I am grateful for everyone who has helped me to this point. Each day, I become more comfortable with my new reality. I thought taking those steps on March 3 would be my finish line. But really, they were only the beginning.” She said.
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