By Rebecca Drew
A TERRIFYING neurological disorder left this mum-of-one paralysed from the breast-line down whilst she was 18-weeks pregnant with her first child.
When member service agent, Anita Brewer (31) from Atlanta, Georgia, USA, was pregnant with her now 10-month-old son, Van, in June last year, she first started to experience back pain and numbness in her feet and legs. Doctors agreed that her symptoms were due to her unborn baby causing pressure in the body and prescribed painkillers.
Within a week, Anita’s symptoms worsened to the point where she struggled to walk, couldn’t urinate and the pain and numbness she experienced was unbearable. Anita and her husband, Grant, rushed to hospital where she was diagnosed with Transverse Myelitis, a rare neurological condition affecting the central nervous system that causes inflammation of the spinal cord. Anita stayed in hospital for three weeks when doctors tried every treatment available but to no avail.
Anita’s condition left her paralysed from the breast-line down, meaning that she needs help with most day-to-day tasks such as dressing herself, managing her bowel and bladder, getting in and out of the shower and can’t play with her son as she hoped she would be able to.
Over the past year, Anita has had lots of physical therapy and Botox injections to deal with the nerve pain but the only treatment that could help her walk again is stem cell therapy that is hoped could help rebuild her spinal cord. Anita’s husband Grant is currently fundraising for this on Go Fund Me.
“I noticed some back pain and a little bit of numbness beginning in my lower extremities about a week prior. We all thought that is was due to the baby causing some pressure. We even went to our family doctor to get her opinion and got prescribed some pain medication,” said Anita.
“The night before we went to the emergency room, the pain was excruciating, and the numbness was getting even more pronounced. It got to the point where I was unable to urinate. That is when we knew something was definitely not right.
“Walking into the hospital early in the morning as I was dragging one of my legs was the last time I walked. I spent nearly three weeks in the hospital and went through every type of treatment available with no improvement.
“I had not heard of this condition before it happened to me. It is basically inflammation of the spinal cord. The inflammation causes the nerves to be pinched and depending on the level of injury can cause loss of feeling and paralysis of some or all of your body.
“I’ve now come to know that this is a very rare disease and the cause of my particular TM is even rarer as it happened while I was 18-weeks pregnant.
“Transverse Myelitis affects every part of everyday life. I need help doing the most simple of tasks as I have been paralysed from breast-line down. I can only partially dress myself. I need assistance to manage my bladder and bowel. I cannot shower by myself and need help getting into the shower, the list goes on.
“The hardest thing for me has been both physical and mental. After our son was born back in September, I never really got to experience the motherhood that I had in mind. It is very difficult to hold him, I can’t play with him the way I thought I would be able to, nor take care of him.
“My mother, father and husband pretty much have to do everything. We’ve all went through depression and I have to take medication to alleviate my mind from anxiety. It’s a very difficult process.
“I’ve had a lot of physical therapy, Botox injections at the site of injury to help deal with the nerve pain which seems constant. The only real treatment available that could help me walk again would be stem cell therapy that could help rebuild my spinal cord.”
Transverse Myelitis is an attack of inflammation of the spinal cord. It is caused by the body’s immune system becoming mis-programmed and activating immune cells to attack the healthy myelin covering the nerves in the spine. It may occur on its own or with another illness and can develop alongside bacterial or viral infections.
However, Anita’s Transverse Myelitis was caused by a vascular form of the condition that affected the blood supply to the spinal cord area which was thought to be manifested due to the pregnancy. Despite this, Anita gave birth to Van naturally.
Anita and Grant try to remain positive and hope that they can inspire others living with something similar. Anita described the rehabilitation process she has been through and spoke about what she has found the most difficult to adjust to.
“I spent seven weeks at Shepherd Centre, a world renowned spinal cord rehabilitation hospital in Atlanta, GA. There I did in-patient rehabilitation, physical therapy, occupation therapy, mental therapy, and many more treatments,” she said.
“I’ve been to the Kennedy Krieger Centre in Baltimore for two weeks to do even more advanced physical therapy with robotic technology such as the exoskeleton. This allowed me to walk with the help of a machine. It really brought tears of happiness for a moment being able to stand and walk for a short while.
“The most difficult thing has been having to depend on other people. I’ve always been that person that helped others and it pains me that I have to be a burden at times to the people I love the most.
“I try to stay positive and I hope that I can inspire people going through something similar. It is very difficult but I know that one day, somehow, some way, I will walk again, whether it’s me or a machine helping me.
“Our support system has been incredible. Realising that so many people out there whether close or far are constantly rooting for us has been amazing.
“This event was a definite eye opener and really changes your perspective on life. Our 10-month-old son, Van, has been an absolute blessing to us. We call him our miracle baby. He brings us so much joy.”
So far, Anita and Grant have raised $25,595 of their $100,000 goal for stem cell therapy to be a possibility for her and are also hoping to purchase a lighter wheelchair to make her life easier and to become more mobile.
Finally, Anita stressed the importance of quick diagnosis.
“I would love the chance to get stem cell therapy performed. My husband, Grant, has found a specific stem cell therapy that has been proven to regrow any tissue in the body, including the spinal cord,” she said.
“It’s just a matter of gathering the funds and finding a legitimate institute that is trusted to perform this life changing treatment. Even if it gave me some mobility, it would still be a major game changer for me and everyone around us.
“I also have a very tough time pushing my wheelchair around, so we are working with a company called Carbon Black Systems out of Scotland to build a lightweight Carbon Fibre wheelchair that weighs less than half of what my current chair weighs.
“This, during the interim will make my life a whole lot easier.
“Get a quick and proper diagnosis. Understanding the underlying cause of your TM could help with getting you the right treatment sooner.
“It took us seven months to figure out that it was a vascular related form of TM and not what you see on the internet where it says most cases are auto-immune or vaccine related.
“Keep a great support group and stay strong. It is not easy in the beginning; there will be time of grieving but never give up and always try to stay positive. Even if you never walk again, try to inspire as many people as you can along the way.”
For more information on Anita’s story and to help her reach her goal see the Go Fund Me page www.gofundme.com/3y2vank