Destiny Walks Again For UH Parma Caregivers Two Years After Paralysis Strikes

Destiny Porter of Parma was paralyzed in fall 2020 by a mysterious virus two weeks before her wedding to Craig Pawlus. The couple were married the following Valentine's Day.

Two years after a mysterious virus attacked her nervous system and paralyzed her from the waist down, Destiny Porter returned to University Hospitals Parma Medical Center with a present for her caregivers. They gathered around her wheelchair, overjoyed to see this young woman who at 25, on the verge of getting married and starting a new life, was struck down by a medical crisis and forced to learn how to navigate life as a paraplegic. The ICU nurses and physical and occupational therapists from the Acute Rehabilitation Unit were eager to hear how she had been faring.  

Destiny announced that she had a surprise. Then she locked her wheelchair into place and rose to her feet. She took one step, then another, while caregivers gasped, cried and screamed, “Oh, my goodness!” Tears sprang to their eyes. “You made my whole day – actually you made my year,” said ICU Medical Director Abdullah AlGhamdi, MD, the doctor who had urgently called for the ECMO heart-lung machine from UH Cleveland Medical Center that fateful morning when Destiny arrived in the Emergency Department and was admitted. He discovered through a cardiac ultrasound that her ailing heart was failing to pump sufficient oxygenated blood to her vital organs. Without immediate intervention, he believed, her heart would stop. He was right. The ECMO team came from main campus to bring Destiny to the CardioThoracic ICU, and within an hour of her arrival at the academic medical center, she suffered a cardiac arrest.

Destiny woke up from a coma six days later, paralyzed. The virus had affected her spine and ability to walk. The longer she went without walking, the less likely she would be to walk again, doctors surmised. But they never relinquished hope. “The fight we had together, your charisma, you proved that if you want to make it, you can make it,” Dr. AlGhamdi told Destiny. “You are one of the success stories. The fact that you are back and walking is amazing.”

Destiny was two weeks away from her wedding day when this unexpected medical crisis occurred. She went from preparing for married life in the couple’s newly purchased Parma bungalow to learning how to move safely through her days in a wheelchair. She would later learn that the virus she contracted sometime that fall before her wedding had given her Guillain-Barre syndrome, a disorder in which the immune system attacks one’s nerves. It’s believed that this resulted in Type 1 diabetes and the acute diabetic ketoacidosis attack that spiraled her toward stress-induced cardiomyopathy and organ failure.

After 37 days in UH Parma’s Acute Rehab, Destiny was discharged to intensive Home Health Care. Over a period of eight months, she went from daily therapy visits to every-other day and eventually weekly before being discharged to outpatient therapy. She would spend another six months working with outpatient PT/OT in UH Parma’s Medical Arts Center 1.

“The biggest factor was not to let her dwell on the hill she had to climb, but to focus on each individual milestone, such as transferring to bed, or bearing weight on her legs again,” said Lori Rohde, a Home Care physical therapist who worked with Destiny for eight months starting immediately after her discharge from the Acute Rehab. Lori recommended the leg braces that helped her walk again. She worked closely with Occupational Therapy, particularly Kim Sladick, to push Destiny safely toward her goal of walking again. “Destiny was always so motivated and open to trying new things, and she had amazing support from her family. She never tried to coast.”

Destiny was grateful that her therapists pushed her hard, because she knew she would benefit in the long run. They believed that if they could get her standing, supported by leg braces to prevent her knees from buckling, that she would walk again. By the time she was discharged from Home Care, she could walk up and down the wheelchair ramp outside her home with a walker. She cried on her last day of therapy.

“I felt confident in the tools they were giving me, but I was missing them – their presence and support,” said Destiny, also grateful to her fiancé, who stood by her side through it all and married her on Valentine’s Day the following year. “I couldn’t have done it without the people here and Home Health Care teaching me how to be a human being again.”

Destiny learned a great deal about resilience and the payoff from focused, hard work. She also learned to be patient with herself as she worked her way through each day. The elementary schoolteacher switched jobs and found a Cleveland charter school with an elevator that could accommodate a physically challenged staffer.

She took on teaching children ranging from Kindergarten to second grade, and far more than basic subjects. Having a physically challenged teacher determined to rise up from her wheelchair and walk again was an unexpected lesson.

“I’m so glad I could be that first person for them, to meet a person with disabilities,” she said. “This has opened doors for them, to look at the world differently.”

She told her therapy team that even though she no longer sees them every day in sessions, they are always with her – and through her, they are influencing another generation.

“I’m so thankful for you,” Destiny told the caregivers gathered around her in support and celebration. “I think about you every day, I think about the things you taught me every day – one step at a time, baby steps. I say that to my students every day. It’s become part of who I am, and I am a better person – a better teacher – because of you guys. So thank you.”

CJ Sheppard

Communications Manager, UH Parma Medical Center

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Volume 15, Issue 1, Posted 6:13 PM, 01.01.2023