In the course of a single day, Erica Wilson went from being an active 12-year-old who loved to dance to being told she would never walk again.
On Feb. 23, 2010, Erica was playing basketball in her Physical Education class at Childersburg Middle School when she suddenly experienced what felt like an intense cramp in her lower right calf. The soreness quickly extended up her leg and down to her toes, and by the time she arrived at the Children’s of Alabama emergency department, she was screaming in pain.
“It felt like somebody was squeezing the muscles from the inside out,” Erica said.
Within four hours, pediatric neurologist Jayne Ness, M.D., diagnosed Erica as having transverse myelitis, an inflammation of the spinal cord that can cause sudden and permanent paralysis in the legs. And while the diagnosis stunned Erica and her family, the fact that she learned what was wrong so rapidly turned out to be crucial for her recovery.
“Most children aren’t diagnosed with this until days or even weeks after it happens,” Erica said. “For Dr. Ness to diagnose me that quickly was super important, because without that I wouldn’t have been able to start rehabilitation so soon. I was in Children’s for nearly six weeks and did physical, occupational and recreational therapy there. When I left Children’s, I was a lot stronger than when I first got there.”
There were, of course, some difficult days along the way. Erica had a hard time accepting that she never would be able to dance again. She desperately needed some way to channel her pent-up energy. So one day her occupational therapist suggested they go watch a wheelchair basketball game at The Lakeshore Foundation. The suggestion introduced the athletic teenager to a new sport and gave her new direction.
“It was one of those days where I felt defeated,” Erica said. “So instead of my normal exercises, Anya wanted to take me to something fun. She’s the one who motivated me to start looking towards playing sports. It’s been an outlet for me emotionally and physically. Without Anya’s help, I would be in a much different place right now.”
Erica plans to attend college, become a recreational therapist and use her personal experience to help children with disabilities improve their lives. And she wants to continue playing wheelchair basketball.
“Throughout her rehabilitation, Erica has demonstrated a real commitment to do whatever is required to get better,” said Drew Davis, M.D., who specializes in rehabilitation medicine and is one of Erica’s doctors. “She has made a successful transition from being a patient to being an active participant in her life.”