Victoria Arlen was your typical 11-year-old girl. She loved to dance and swim and run and she was a promising athlete.
But all of a sudden, that began to change. She started to trip over her feet and then eventually lost use of her legs altogether. Then she began to have trouble swallowing.
Eventually, she ended up in what doctors told her family was a vegetative state.
At first, doctors couldn’t give her family a reason for why her health had declined so rapidly. Later, she was diagnosed with transverse myelitis and acute disseminated encephalomyelitis, two rare autoimmune diseases that caused inflammation of the brain and spine.
Doctors advised her parents to take her home. They said she would probably never come out of her coma-like state.
For four years, Victoria’s family refused to give up on her. They took turns sitting by her side and talking to her, hoping against hope that someday she would wake up.
Little did they know that, while Victoria’s body was paralyzed, during the second two years her mind was fully active!
It was a terrible and terrifying experience for Victoria. She could hear what the doctors were saying about her and was fully aware of what was going on around her but, try as she might, she couldn’t communicate it.
“I was really scared. I knew if I just stopped fighting, I wouldn’t be in pain or suffering anymore — but dying was the easy way out,” she said.
Not willing to give up, Victoria decided to strengthen what she could: her mind. She began to write screenplays in her head, spent time praying, and visualized what life would look like when she was healthy again.
“I kept reminding myself of what was good — and that I was still there,” she said.
In 2009, three months after her 15th birthday, a miracle occurred: Victoria woke up and realized she had control of her eyes!
“From there it was miracle after miracle,” she said.
She began to get feeling back in the upper part of her body and was eventually able to get around in a wheelchair. Soon after, her brothers put a life vest on her and helped her swim in the pool.
“It was freedom for me,” she said. “The pool became my escape.”
After some bullying in high school, Victoria became determined to walk again, and walk she did! Nothing was going to get in her way now!
Since waking up, Victoria has won gold at the 2012 Paralympic games in London, become an anchor for ESPN, and competed on Dancing With The Stars!
Now she says she hopes her life will inspire others who are facing seemingly insurmountable odds.
“I want the other Victorias out there, the people that are suffering or going through something, to keep fighting,” she said. “I’d never choose what happened to me, but I would never change it. It’s my tragic, beautiful journey.”
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