Paralyzed as a Kid, She Feared Relapse That Suddenly Came

'I keep believing in miracles,' ESPN's Victoria Arlen says after 2nd recovery from transverse myelitis
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted May 11, 2023 6:55 PM CDT
Paralyzed as a Kid, She Feared Relapse That Suddenly Came
Victoria Arlen arrives at the ESPY Awards at Nokia Theater in Los Angeles on July 17, 2013.   (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

After hosting ESPN's SportsCenter in March of last year, Victoria Arlen felt an odd sensation in her face, then her legs. Rushed to a hospital, she was told she was having a stroke, the broadcaster and former Paralympian tells People. The 28-year-old's reaction: "At least it's not a relapse." At age 11, Arlen was diagnosed with two rare neurological disorders that left her "trapped in a vegetative state," unable to move or speak, she writes on Instagram, per the Spun. She recalls "hearing doctors tell my family that it was highly unlikely that I would survive ... and that they should 'move on.'" Four years later, she made a miraculous recovery, relearned to walk, then dance—as she did on Dancing With the Stars. She thought the experience was behind her. But she was wrong.

She wasn't having a stroke. At the hospital, doctors realized she was, in fact, suffering a relapse of transverse myelitis, one of the two conditions she'd suffered when she was younger. She quickly lost the ability to move her arms and legs. Even talking proved difficult. "They said, 'We have a very short window before you could end up completely paralyzed—or worse,'" she tells People. "I'm lying there thinking, 'I can't die like this.' I prayed harder than I've ever prayed before. I was like, 'No, God. This isn't how the story is supposed to end.'" Thankfully, quick treatment with intravenous steroids prevented permanent paralysis. But "sitting up was a process again. Just being able to take steps and stand was a process again."

"Mentally I didn't feel safe in my body for a long time," she adds, per People. More than a year later, she still suffers from nerve pain. "Some days I'll be at the SportsCenter desk and I feel like I'm being completely electrocuted," she says. But that hasn't kept her from exercising or hosting the X Games. "I keep believing in miracles. I choose to have faith that I'm going to be OK, and I choose to have hope that things are going to continue to get better." Doctors say the likelihood of another relapse following her long recovery is low. So "I choose to celebrate all that has happened and rejoice in the beauty of each trial and tribulation," she writes. "And if you're going through something keep going, keep fighting ... the pain is worth it." (Read more recovery stories.)

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