Victoria Arlen: Rockin' Her Disability
By Patrick Quinn
Editor's spoiler alert: Meet Victoria Arlen in person at Abilities Expo Boston, September 18-20, 2015 at the Project Walk Boston booth (#518)! You can also look forward to more articles from Victoria on her adventures.
Imagine for a moment being trapped inside your own body for five grueling years, unable to communicate with the outside world as your health continued to deteriorate while expert doctors offer your loved ones no signs of hope. Yet you were still there. In mind and spirit you were still you, desperately trying to find a way back to the life you once knew. Victoria Arlen has not only been through this astonishing battle simply to survive, but she has found ways to thrive and has turned her life's challenges into an unending source of fuel that has led to extraordinary accomplishments.
Slippery Slope: From Healthy Child to Persistent Vegetative State
A healthy, active child, Victoria had everything to live for and a world of possibilities in front of her. But at eleven years old she began to get sick more and more often. In April of 2006, she began to experience unusual side pains then suddenly lost weight, 30 lbs. in two weeks. She lost feeling in her legs and then became paralyzed. Doctors scrambled for answers, but none came.
Her health spiraled downward until she was left in a completely vegetative state. Her parents and family were told not to expect a recovery and to prepare for the possibility that Victoria would die.
For nearly 4 years, Victoria toiled in an existence of internal isolation, with only her family truly believing that she was still there and someway, somehow, she would be back.
Eventually, in early 2009, the diagnosis came. It was Transverse Myelitis, an extremely rare neurological disease that needs to be treated within three months to avoid permanent damage. It had been nearly three years.
Victoria's Miraculous Recovery
Doctors were able to keep Victoria from worsening but any sort of recovery was medically ruled out. Her family took her home, set up a makeshift hospital room in the living room and continued to do everything they could to draw her out, always believing she would return. They prayed for a miracle.
Their prayers were answered in the simplest form of communication possible. One blink for 'yes', one squint for 'no'. And so began Victoria's impossible journey back. Now able to express herself for the first time in years, her spirits rose.
The family was able to get her frequent seizures under control. After twenty shots of Botox in each hand, the severe spasms in her hands subsided and she regained some mobility in her fingers. She was able to point. Eventually raw sounds became words and she learned to speak again and to move her hands and arms. Having consumed no food for nearly five years, she learned to eat again. Inch by inch, she recovered after a virtual five year hiatus from life. With the exception of paralysis from the waist down due to damage to her spine, the Victoria of old was back.
She's Back and Taking the World by Storm
In September of 2010, Victoria began freshman year at Exeter High School. The last time she had been in a classroom was the 5th grade. With little expectations from the faculty that she would be able to keep up, she applied the same "I can do anything I set my mind to" attitude that led her through her darkest hour to her schoolwork and she thrived. She made up all past work and graduated from high school in three years in time to join her two brothers (she's a triplet) on graduation day in June 2013...a monumental accomplishment for the entire Arlen family.
Victoria recalls her brothers urging her to get back to swimming, a sport in which she excelled as a child. Terrified that without the use of her legs she would drown, she refused. But her brothers are as persistent as she is and eventually she relented. In June of 2010, she returned to the water for the very first time since her illness and so began an extraordinary journey of athletic accomplishment. Two years later Victoria represented Team USA at the London 2012 Paralympic games and brought home three silver medals and a gold medal.
Outside of the pool Victoria has traveled the world and become an accomplished motivational speaker, actress, model, and recently joined ESPN and made her television debut this summer reporting at the Special Olympic World Games in Los Angeles.
At just twenty years old Victoria has become world famous not only for her story and accomplishments but for her message: "Face It, Embrace It, Defy It, Conquer It" and "Rock Your Disability" away.
About Victoria Arlen:
After being trapped in a vegetative state for nearly four years, Victoria Arlen rejoined the world with a vengeance. In her next five years, she became a Paralympic gold and silver medal winner,
reporter for ESPN, a motivational speaker, an actress, a model and more. Visit her online at www.victoriaarlen.com or find her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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