By Rebecca Drew
EX-MODEL thought she was having a HEART ATTACK when she woke up with a dead arm but doctors brushed it off as ANXIETY and sent her home – five hours later she woke up PARALYSED.
When designer, Sonia Vera (46) who is originally from Margarita Island, Venezuela but has lived in London, UK, since 2016, woke up with a dead arm in June 2017, she went to hospital fearing she was having a heart attack.
Medical staff told her that she was just suffering from anxiety, to go home and have a nap. Deep down, Sonia felt that something wasn’t quite right, but followed the medical advice and five hours later, she woke up paralysed from the chest down. Remarkably Sonia never panicked when she woke up and found she was paralysed, and she trusted that it would pass or that doctors would be able to treat her and make her better.
At hospital, she underwent a series of tests, including two spinal taps, before being diagnosed with transverse myelitis, a rare neurological condition affecting the central nervous system that causes inflammation of the spinal cord. Sonia spent six months in hospital where she was initially given steroids to reduce the inflammation followed by three IVIG transfusions alongside intense physiotherapy.
Sonia, who used to be a model and TV personality before starting her own swimwear brand, has been told that there is no cure for her condition and that she may not be able to walk again but she remains positive and is determined to walk on dry land again. Sonia walks in a hydro pool daily, and she’s always aware of new developments in the treatment of transverse myelitis.
After seeing medical trials for an epidural stimulator in Kentucky, USA, which has proven successful in reversing some paralysis, Sonia has set up a Go Fund Me page so that she can fly to The States and have the revolutionary treatment which is her only hope of walking again.
“I woke up one Saturday morning like any other day and shortly after felt my arms falling to sleep, my fingers didn’t open either. I thought I was having a heart attack,” said Sonia.
“They said at the hospital that I was just suffering from anxiety and sent me home. I was told to take a nap and would be well. Five hours later I woke up paralysed.
“Honestly I was calm. Panic never set in, I was just in total disbelief and was praying it was something they could fix or it would pass.
“Physically it’s been tough of course. I struggle with one whole side of my body that doesn’t really respond on dry land, yet there are signs of messages coming and going when I am in a pool.
“I have neuro pain in my right arm that is constant and then there are all the challenges of everyday life, like getting around and reaching for things. Mentally, I’m ok. I’ve had my lows and then I just pop right back up. I do meditation in the morning to calm any anxiety and then I mostly focus on my physio and being positive. Having faith is important.
“At first I was put on a lot of steroids to take the inflammation down, then I had three IVIG transfusions in the hospital. Since there is no actual cure for me, I don’t have any regimen to manage my condition. I only take one pill for my Neuro pain in my arm.
“I have my good days and my bad days. But as I see it, I feel that there must be some lesson to be taken away from this experience and so I just try and live in the ‘now’ every day and take it one day at a time.
“The worse thing is not knowing if and when I will walk or what my recovery will be like. My wheelchair has become part of me, but I’m also fighting every day to get out of it.”
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.
Sonia suffers from neurological pain for which she takes pain relief for daily, but she continues to stay positive and isn’t going to lose herself just because she’s now a wheelchair user, and even took part in a sensation fashion style photoshoot whilst in hospital.
“I’ve been a model for so long and in fashion, that I felt the need to keep being me. On the inside I’m still the same person,” she said.
“I did that shoot three months after being admitted and I remember clearly being in pain, not being able to hold my head up or sit up. But I did it and I wanted to show that even through adversity, one must go on, go on being the same person.
“It’s been a painful process. At times, I felt I couldn’t find the strength to continue and other times I was determined and focussed.
“I have created my own routine and I decide how my physio will be. ‘I Will What I Want’ is my mantra, I push myself everyday out of my comfort zone.
“What’s happened to me is just life. I may not understand it now, but someday I will and from it there will be a purpose. I have to function as if I still have my legs working and part of that is, most importantly, me remaining true to myself. I hope that it will encourage others to never give up.
“Never give up. Go beyond your comfort zone and have faith that everything will get better.
“I am raising money to have an epidural stimulator implanted in my spine, so that I can walk again.
“The procedure, that takes place in Louisville, Kentucky, would mean I would have the gift and opportunity to regain my life again.
“In June 2017, I was diagnosed, and I had a tattoo done with that date, I’m looking forward to adding a dash with the date that I walk again, to follow.”
You can donate to Sonia’s cause here: www.gofundme.com/f/please-help-me-have-the-gift-of-walking-again?utm_source=customer&utm_medium=copy_link-tip&utm_campaign=p_cp+share-sheetc