17-Year-Old Overcomes Temporary Paralysis, Recognized by Michaels Stores

While Supplies Last, You Can Pick Up a Michaels Tote Bag Featuring Jessica’s Artwork

Jessica was a junior in high school and a star athlete who played water polo, volleyball and competed on the swim team. She took pride in maintaining her high GPA while taking advanced classes.

On March 12, 2016, she went to a friend’s party and woke up the next morning with extreme neck pain. Only four hours later, she was rushed to the emergency room, unable to move from her neck down. Jessica went from being an athletic, active young woman to a quadriplegic in a matter of hours.

Jessica underwent MRIs, CAT scans and a spinal tap to diagnose her condition, but to this day, the doctors are uncertain as to what caused the autoimmune disorder called transverse myelitis. They can only assume it was a viral infection that took a turn for the worse.

Jessica Learns to Walk Again

Jessica undergoing physical therapy at Rancho Los Amigos Rehabilitation Center.

In hopes of reversing the effects of transverse myelitis, Jessica underwent aggressive physical, occupational and recreational therapy. She was admitted to Starlight community partner Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center in Downey, Calif. The rehabilitation hospital uses creative techniques to engage patients in therapy. Jessica’s love for volleyball and swimming was incorporated into exercises. Rancho also uses movement-based tools such as Starlight Fun Centers and art therapy to engage patients.

Less than a year later, despite limited strength on her dominant side of the body, Jessica walks without assistive devices. Due to the long hospitalization stay, Jessica was unable to complete her junior year at high school.

However, being behind in school did not stop her from aiming to return senior year.

“I wanted to return as if nothing happened to me, grade-wise, credit-wise and physical-wise,” Jessica said – and that’s exactly what she did.

Inspiring Kids Going Through Physical Therapy

Jessica is now giving back to the hospital that helped her recover. She volunteers with the Recreation Therapy department a few Saturdays a month to help other kids affected by similar catastrophic life events. She connects with and understands what they’re going through and gives them hope that things will turn out all-right for them like they did for her.

Jessica’s mother says if you saw her in the hallway, you would never know what had happened to her. Thanks to lots of hard work, determination and one-on-one therapy at Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center, Jessica learned how to walk again.

Now that Jessica is mobile, the next step in her recovery is regaining stamina and strength. She fatigues easily and takes three-hour naps to recover from a six-hour school day.

“I don’t know how I got such a child like her, I’m so grateful she is mine,” Jessica’s Mom, Angelica, said proudly. “She’s inspirational to me. I can’t believe how strong she is, how determined she is.”

Find Jessica’s Artwork on a Michaels Tote Bag

Jessica’s artwork that can be found on a Michaels tote bag.

Her hard work is certainly being recognized. Michaels selected one of Jessica’s paintings created during an art therapy class at Rancho. As a result, her artwork is now featured on a Spring tote bag that is sold at Michaels stores across the nation.

The tote bags are $1.99 in every US Michaels stores while supplies last and $1.24 from each bag will help Starlight’s mission in creating moments of joy and comfort to seriously ill children and their families.

Find a store near you.

Jessica brings a positive mindset not only to her recovery, but to her academics as well. She has applied to colleges and looks forward to walking down the aisle at graduation with her peers. Throughout this incredibly challenging year, Jessica learned a lot about herself.

“There are no limits to what I can do. I just needed to push myself physically and mentally, and I can do anything.”

About the Author

Tara Millspaugh

Digital Media Manager

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