A Story of Perseverance and Triumph
From Field to Rehab
“911, what is your emergency?”
The medics quickly arrived at the soccer field after a loud crackling emerged from my ankle. They rushed me to the emergency room where the doctor informed me that I had ruptured numerous ligaments in my ankle and that it should heal within a few weeks; however, as I went through months of physical therapy, I faced more pain and increasing instability. The only way to repair the injury would be surgery, so begins my story of perseverance and triumph.
When I awoke from surgery, the pain was excruciating. I felt as if my leg was being stabbed with knives on fire doused in gasoline. As my recovery continued the surgeons were perplexed as to why my searing pain was not dissipating. Alarming new symptoms began including a purple foot, temperature changes in my skin, the inability to walk, and severe allodynia, which causes grueling pain from what should be normal sensations. My dream of becoming a professional soccer player was crushed.
Eventually, after many tests a specialist at Children’s Hospital diagnosed me with Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD). RSD is a chronic nerve disease that results in miscommunications throughout the nervous system. In patients with RSD, the brain develops the inability to control the signaling pathways resulting in the patient experiencing pain longer and out of proportion to the initial injury. Despite there not being a RSD cure, there are RSD treatments to manage the symptoms including medications, infusions, physical therapy, and surgeries.
My doctor painstakingly explained that the majority of RSD patients remain wheelchair bound and never regain full function of the inflicted limb. I was devastated. My passion and devotion to soccer was now just a dream of the past. I immediately started into physical therapy in hopes of relearning how to walk. Each therapy session consisted of agonizing exercises and manipulations that often exacerbated the pain. There were many instances where I was exhausted and tired of the therapy and doctor’s appointments and wanted to give up, but the thought of never walking again was extremely terrifying, so, with the support of my family, I continued on my battle. While the therapists were there to assist me on this journey to walking, I felt as if they were judges sentencing me to prison in my own body because of the pain they inflicted upon me. The therapists stroked my leg with different substances including cotton, silk, and rice to retrain my brain that the sensations were normal and not harmful. After attending rehabilitation for three to five days a week for three months, I finally took my first steps! It was an exhilarating experience! After being told by countless doctors and other medical professionals that I would be wheelchair bound for the rest of my life, I proved them wrong and managed to accomplish the unimaginable.
Although being a professional soccer player is no longer in my future, I have been able to use the time I previously dedicated to soccer to helping others with RSD. I founded the Washington D.C. RSD Support Group, which allows me to provide support and guide others as they go through this frightful and terrifying experience. At one of the meetings, a thirteen year old girl Emily came to the meeting. She had a similar story to me, but her medical providers believed she was faking all the symptoms and the pain was “all in her head” because they had never heard of RSD before. With my support I feel blessed to have been able to guide Emily and her family to the correct physicians to receive treatment, and two months ago Emily took her first steps! Assisting others with RSD made me realize how fortunate I am despite this diagnosis to be walking and functioning morally like I am today!
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