Last year, ESPN personality Victoria Arlen was left completely immobile for the second time in her life. Now, she’s ready to share her story.
At the age of 11, Arlen developed two rare neurological conditions known as transverse myelitis and acute disseminated encephalomyelitis. She was left completely unable to speak, walk, eat, and move and doctors believed the chances of recovering were highly unlikely. After spending four years “locked” in her own body, a new medication miraculously helped her re-learn the skills she thought she lost forever.
By 2012, she qualified for the Summer Paralympics and went on to win four medals representing Team USA in swimming. Following her athletic career, she transitioned into sports commentary and was hired by ESPN. After she was brought onto the cast and spent over a decade paralyzed, she relearned how to walk.
Despite years of acclimating and healing, after hosting last year’s ESPN SportsCenter on March 17, fears of paralysis came creeping back when she noticed something off about her face.
“The whole right side started to droop,” Arlen told PEOPLE Magazine in an exclusive interview. “All my internal alarms were going off. I knew something was seriously wrong.”
Upon her admission to the hospital, doctors believed she was possibly having a stroke. However, as she gradually lost feeling throughout her body once more, they confirmed she was relapsing. Arlen recalled, “They said, ‘We have a very short window before you could end up completely paralyzed—or worse…’ 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.’ “
Victoria Arlen talks road to recovery following her sudden relapse.
Although the situation was undoubtedly scary, the ESPN host was thankfully offered intravenous steroids immediately to reduce the inflammation. This medicine, which she wasn’t offered at the age of 11, was able to minimize lasting damage.
“Sitting up was a process again. Just being able to take steps and stand was a process again,” Arlen said of the healing journey. “I really wanted to get back in the game. “I needed to prove to myself that I was going to be okay.”
According to doctors, a relapse after years of remission is extremely unlikely and they believe that the chance of another relapse is slim. With this being said, the sports figure is slowly but surely acclimating to everyday life and left the hospital with a new outlook on living.
“I’ve been given another second chance, and I make a conscious effort now more than ever to appreciate every single moment,” Arlen stated. “Because in the blink of an eye, it can be taken away.”
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