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Treatment Caused Paralyzed Australian Woman To Walk Again After 12 Years

By Christie Abagon , Nov 25, 2016 01:12 AM EST
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The 61-year-old Rhonda Hodges from Toowoomba was unable to walk or sit in a chair comfortably without suffering tremors in her arms or spasms in her legs for 12 years.   She was previously told by neurologists that her condition was all in her head.  However, a meeting with a Mater rehabilitation medicine specialist earlier this year confirmed what she had known all along - there is something seriously wrong with her. 

Stiff Person Syndrome Caused Her Paralysis

In June, Rhonda had a chance meeting with a specialist in rehabilitation medicine, Doctor Saul Geffen, who paved the way for a groundbreaking treatment.  Dr Geffen sought help from neurology colleagues at Mater Private Hospital in Brisbane, who diagnosed her with Stiff Person Syndrome (SPS), a rare condition that affects only one in a million people.  SPS is a neurological disease that causes muscle stiffness and spasms. 

"I knew from my experience that it would have been impossible for somebody to pretend the symptoms," Dr Geffen said. 

Treatment Injected Into The Spinal Cord Made Rhonda Walk Again

Before the treatment, the misdiagnosis made her mad, but Rhonda was determined to find a cure.  "Well I was really ticked off. I really was, because I knew it wasn't in my head and I was so furious with the doctors saying it was in my head."

Dr Geffen arranged a meeting between Rhonda and neurologists at Brisbane's Mater Hospital.  Neurosurgeon Rob Campbell conducted the surgery, which involved inserting a pump that administers the drug baclofen.  This procedure is used to treat other conditions like cerebral palsy, but had never been used for stiff person syndrome in Australia. 

Surgery Made A Dramatic Improvement And Gave Rhonda Her Life Back

Rhonda felt the effect of the treatment just 24 hours after the surgery. "So this is just a miracle.  I woke in the morning and could wiggle my toes... I was just so happy. I've been given a second chance, and I feel so blessed, so grateful to Dr Geffen and all the Mater people involved in giving me my life back," she said.  

Mater Hospital's medical team are hoping that Rhonda's story will inspire other people who have been diagnosed with SPS.

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