Hannah Vandevoir never imagined her life would change so dramatically in such a short period. Hannah was at home when she developed a sore throat and viral symptoms. Things got worse – fast.
"I experienced significant weakness overall in the body," she recalled. "I was unable to walk with[in] the first week of my getting sick ... had progressive loss of my motor skills ... I pretty much don't remember the first two weeks now."
Her doctors diagnosed Hannah with tetraplegia (paralysis below the neck that affects all of a person's limbs) due to acute rhombencephalitis and transverse myelitis. In other words, her paralysis was associated with an infection, which caused her spinal cord to become inflamed.
Hannah faced profound physical challenges, weakness in her legs and hands, numbness in her fingers and toes, tingling and dysphonia (functional voice difficulty). She required maximum assistance for her basic self-care needs. She could not resume her role as spouse or mother to her 10-month-old daughter.
"I was unsure if I would ever be able to move my legs again," Hannah stated.
Hannah required specialized rehabilitative care to regain her lost strength and independence.
Once she stabilized, Hannah transferred to Baylor Scott & White Institute for Rehabilitation (BSWIR) - Dallas. She was referred by her neurologist and the physical therapy team at Washington Regional, who spoke highly of the BSWIR – Dallas team and their specialized skills in spinal cord injury care.
The rehabilitation team at BSWIR – Dallas worked with Hannah and her family to put a treatment plan in place. The dedicated team of therapists dove deep into Hannah's life, understanding her unique needs. Hannah's chief goal was simple yet profound: "To get back to normal." For her, this meant caring for her daughter, participating fully in family life and resuming her role as the caretaker of her farm and animals.
"They really took the time to know what my life looked like outside therapy," Hannah remarked. "The things I needed to do to take care of my daughter, playing with my daughter on the floor and getting back up."
Using state-of-the-art equipment, including weight-assisted treadmills, Litegait and EKSO robotics, Hannah began to regain the strength to move her body, giving her the chance to relearn key motor skills.
"Without all the specialized equipment and devices, I wouldn't have been able to perform ... activities and practice my walking skills," she exclaimed.
An unexpected breakthrough came during a routine exercise. "The first 'ah-ha' moment was when I was able to bend my knee and pull it to my chest," Hannah said. "It felt like a small movement, but I had been working on it for so long and then I felt like everything took off in the right direction."
Occupational therapy focused on refining her fine motor skills, beginning with improving her abilities from bed level. Once on her feet, she gradually and steadily relearned the skills to care for her daughter, walking with a weighted baby and changing diapers and clothes.
Her husband Todd was by her side throughout, aiding in therapy sessions, supporting her through all exercises, working with her in the room and providing emotional support. "It's been so helpful to have someone for emotional support but also for extra support to help me do therapy," Hannah shared.
As Hannah's strength and independence grew, she began to envision the day she'd leave the hospital. "I think the first thing I am doing to do is to hang out with my family and with my dogs and having a big event to celebrate my daughter's first birthday after being gone through all of this."
Reflecting on her time at BSWIR - Dallas, Hannah expressed deep gratitude: "It's been a very humbling experience to be here and to have had the opportunity to work with the therapist[s] here, to have the medical staffs' attention to support my recovery and to be able to regain my life. I am very thankful for the time I was at BSWIR."
Her advice for others embarking on a similar journey? "Stay optimistic, even in tough times. Keep the end goal in mind."