Pro dancer Val Chmerkovskiy is paired with paralympian swimmer Victoria Arlen, who learned to walk in 2016 after being paralyzed from the waist down for almost a decade. So, how did Arlen become paralyzed in the first place? At the young age of eleven, Arlen developed two rare diseases – transverse myelitis and acute disseminated encephalomyelitis. Soon, Arlen slipped into a vegetative state, losing the ability to speak, eat, walk, and move. After four years, she started to be able to move again, despite the grim diagnosis. And, today, she is a features reporter for ESPN.
According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, transverse myelitis is a neurological disorder caused by inflammation of the spinal cord and it affects one’s nerves as well. Symptoms include weakness, pain, numbness and sometimes urinary or bowel dysfunction. And, as for acute disseminated encephalomyelitis, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke defines the disease as this:
Acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM) is characterized by a brief but widespread attack of inflammation in the brain and spinal cord that damages myelin – the protective covering of nerve fibers. ADEM often follows viral or bacterial infections, or less often, vaccination for measles, mumps, or rubella. The symptoms of ADEM appear rapidly, beginning with encephalitis-like symptoms such as fever, fatigue, headache, nausea and vomiting, and in the most severe cases, seizures and coma. ADEM typically damages white matter (brain tissue that takes its name from the white color of myelin), leading to neurological symptoms such as visual loss (due to inflammation of the optic nerve) in one or both eyes, weakness even to the point of paralysis, and difficulty coordinating voluntary muscle movements (such as those used in walking).
In an interview with Us Weekly, Arlen dished on her new DWTS gig and overcoming her diseases, saying:
I never really sought out to be an inspiration. To go from not walking to dancing in a matter of two years, it’s pretty crazy. I think walking is a little easier than ballroom dancing … but I’m really grateful and blessed to be working with Val … It’s been challenging. I think anyone that goes in and says it’s easy hasn’t really dove into it. It’s really challenging, but I like a good challenge and I have a really good teacher.
Though Arlen may be at a disadvantage, Chmerkovskiy is firm that Arlen does not need a pity party, as he explained:
It’s hard work and you gotta earn your celebration and earn your rest and your sleep. I just know she’s that type of person and wants it anyway, so I’m going to squeeze every ounce of her potential out of her. Then I can live with the results.
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