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Kimberly Altizer thought her thirteen year-old daughter Annie was just being dramatic when she said she couldn’t move her legs. After all, as a forward on her soccer team, Annie had been running, cutting and jumping the day before.
Though they weren’t overly concerned, the Altizer’s erred on the side of caution. “My husband took her to the hospital,” explains Kimberly. “Four or five hours later, he called me and said ‘I think you need to come up here,’ and that’s when it became very scary.”
Annie was diagnosed with transverse myelitis – a rare inflammation of the spinal cord that results in paralysis from the inflamed area down the rest of the body. For the incredibly active Annie, she was paralyzed below the stomach. The doctors were uncertain of what caused Annie’s transverse myelitis, and equally unsure of her prognosis. Some patients recover most of their function. Some don’t recover any.
“I was really worried that no one would know what to do to make me get better, and that I’d be paralyzed forever,” confesses Annie.
While how much movement Annie would recover was the big unknown, Kimberly says there was no question as to where she needed go for rehabilitation to have the best chance. “Our doctor said that Our Children’s House [OCH] was the place to go.”
“We were told that Annie needed intense therapy, but I didn’t really know what that meant,” says Kimberly. “Then OCH staff came to the hospital to do their evaluation and started listing all the things they were going to do for her. It really was amazing.”
When Annie was transferred from the hospital to Our Children’s House at Baylor’s inpatient program in Dallas, she could only move her feet and was still in a wheelchair. In line with OCH’s aggressive approach to therapy, it wasn’t long before Annie was up and moving.
“At OCH, they immediately got her on a walker and had her taking four or five steps,” explains Kimberly.
Annie had physical therapy and occupational therapy twice daily and aquatic therapy throughout the week as well. The focus was not only on retraining her legs how to move, but strengthening her upper body and core. OCH also equipped Annie with the tools she needed to do everyday activities like getting dressed. Besides a steady diet of high-intensity therapy sessions, Annie participated in lower-impact sessions like stretching and massage therapy. By the time she checked out of OCH less than a month later, she could walk short distances with the help of a walker.
After graduating the OCH inpatient program, Annie began the outpatient program at OCH at Baylor in Frisco, receiving physical therapy five days a week. Thanks to Annie’s determination and progress, she now only goes to physical therapy twice a week and aquatic therapy once a week.
But still, she is being pushed by her therapists as much as ever. “Every session is something new, and they challenge Annie to do things that we think is ‘crazy.’ Sure enough though, by the end they have her doing it.”
A year prior, wiggling her toes was an accomplishment. Now Annie is attending school most days with only a single point cane, walking around the house without any crutch at all, and running on a treadmill – which is her favorite activity.
“I love my therapists,” Annie says. “They’re so great at letting me know how good I’m doing and encouraging me to work harder and try my best.”
In the short term, Annie’s goal is to play on the high school soccer team. And long-term –after her time at OCH – she declares, “I want to be a physical therapist.”
Want to learn more about Annie? Her incredible story has been featured on WFAA Channel 8 News.
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