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Erin Kelly
Somehow, after all that she’s been through, 16-year-old Erin Kelly—with a contagious smile—says she feels lucky.
Erin, a dedicated high-school softball player from Maywood, NJ, woke up one morning unable to feel her legs. Powerless to get up from her bed at home, she was taken by ambulance to Hackensack University Medical Center, anticipating a diagnosis of pinched nerves. Erin’s dad, Jerry Kelly, remembers thinking that his daughter would be back home that night and at softball practice the next day. Erin and her family were unfortunately in for a terrible surprise.
Erin was diagnosed with transverse myelitis, a neurological disorder caused by inflammation across both sides of one level, or segment, of the spinal cord. The term myelitis refers to inflammation of the spinal cord; attacks of inflammation can damage or destroy myelin, the fatty insulating substance that covers nerve cell fibers. This damage causes nervous system scars that interrupt communications between the nerves in the spinal cord and the rest of the body. Symptoms of transverse myelitis include a loss of spinal cord function over several hours to several weeks. What usually begins as a sudden onset of lower back pain, muscle weakness, or abnormal sensations in the toes and feet can rapidly progress to more severe symptoms, including paralysis.
Similar to the description, Erin was paralyzed from the waist down. Just one day prior, this vibrant and athletic young girl was at softball practice and eating pizza with a friend. Jerry Kelly remembers this as the most frightening time, not sure his daughter would ever walk again. After a move to Cornell University Medical Center, Erin finally began to wiggle her toes, and hope was born. Or, as Jerry Kelly continually says, “there’s light at the end of the tunnel.”
This quiet and humble high-school junior literally got back on her feet at PSE&G Children’s Specialized Hospital in New Brunswick, where she was staying as an in-patient for approximately three weeks. With help from physical and occupational therapists three hours per day, Erin went swimming, and worked hard on balance and strengthening. Erin also took her “first” steps at the hospital—she essentially had to relearn how to walk. Her motivation toward rehabilitation was so great, that her physical therapists had to force her to rest. Erin is a girl on a mission.
Though she didn’t get to see too much personally, being in the hospital, Erin’s community in Maywood began an outpouring of support. A deluge of fundraisers were organized, ribbons in Erin’s favorite color—purple—could be seen flying around town in her support (Jerry Kelly wears a purple shirt every day!), and a Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/ForErinKelly) was set up to keep friends, family, and community members updated on her progress.
Erin is still working hard to regain strength and get back to her “normal” routines, things that she says she took for granted—like walking down stairs. Erin’s experience at Children’s Specialized Hospital has inspired her. She’s beefing up on her math and science courses in preparation for the SATs, and maybe, for a career as a nurse.
The great news is that Erin made it home in July. Her physician, Dr. Michele Fantasia, says the staff worked hard so that Erin “would get there walking on her own—without crutches.”
Erin will have future rehabilitation as an outpatient for a year or so, but Children’s Specialized Hospital has had a great success rate with patients like her. Go Erin!
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Jeannie Brooks
Director of Admissions
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