Teen Who Suffered Sudden Paralysis Hits Slopes Again Thanks to Therapy and Special Skis

PHOTO: Jacob Wald hit the slopes for the first time since being paralyzed due to a rare disease.Seattle Children's Hospital
Jacob Wald hit the slopes for the first time since being paralyzed due to a rare disease.

A Washington state teen was able to hit the slopes again just over a year after a disease left him temporarily paralyzed.

Jacob Wald, 13, went skiing last month with the help of specially designed skis that allow him to use his arms to help him steer.

Jacob, of Tacoma, Washington, temporarily lost the use of his legs in January 2015 when he developed a rare neurological condition called transverse myelitis. The condition is characterized by inflammation in the spinal cord that can lead to paralysis. The condition has no specific cause, though it has been linked to viral infections or abnormal immune responses, according to the National Institutes of Health.

For Jacob, the symptoms appeared with terrifying speed. The very same day he developed symptoms, he ended up in the emergency room.

“I was playing basketball that morning,” Jacob said on the website of Seattle Children's, the hospital where he was treated. “Everything happened so fast. Eight hours later I couldn’t walk.”

Jacob's mother, Cheryl Wald, told ABC News today that her son now just uses a crutch for balance. However, she said when he was on the way to go skiing, he remained fearful he would be limited in how far he could go.

“On the way there he said he was a little bit scared,” Wald said. “He said, 'I don’t know what I’m going to be able to do.'”

However, as soon as he was standing, he became determined to get down the mountain, she said.

“He said, 'I can do this and I’m going to come back next year and go down from the top,'" she said.

Initially taken to a local hospital in Tacoma, Wald was transferred to Seattle Children's for specialized care and rehabilitation.

“My legs turned to JELL-O,” Jacob said on the Seattle Children's website of how he felt during the worst of the infection.

Once at the hospital, Jacob started the slow process of rehabilitation with the hopes the damage to the spinal cord could be reversed. For weeks, Jacob pushed himself to simply move a muscle or take a step, he said, noting that being a competitive person, he pushed himself to walk again.

“I would come up with things I wanted to achieve, and then we’d focus on the muscles it took to achieve those things,” Jacob said. “I was in a wheelchair for seven months but I worked down to only needing one crutch. I’m a really competitive kid. I liked working toward things.”

While Jacob has been improving over the past year, he still had to give up many of the activities he did before.

However, Jacob got to hit the slopes again last month for the first time since he lost feeling in his legs. The teen went with Outdoors for All, an organization that provides adaptive and therapeutic recreation programs for children and adults with disabilities. He was able to use adaptive ski equipment so that he could get down the mountain without full control of his legs.

“My favorite part was being able to do something I did before I was injured,” Jacob said. “It made me feel more normal. I was really nervous at first that I wasn’t going to have fun, and I didn’t know if I was able to do it, but it was a lot of fun.”

Despite his progress, Jacob said he isn't settling, and that he plans to go skiing again next year.

“I’m still on the small slopes,” he said. “But next year I’m going to come back and see what else I can accomplish!”