Teen Who Woke Up Paralyzed Now Walking and Running Again

Jessica Shainberg is recovering after having temporary paralysis.

ByABC News
March 4, 2015, 4:17 PM

— -- A Nashville, Tennessee, teen is celebrating that she's regained the ability to walk after suffering sudden paralysis.

Just six weeks ago, Jessica Shainberg, 15, woke up with no feeling below her waist.

"She was very calm," her father, Jeff Shainberg, told ABC News. "I didn’t believe her at first, [I said] 'You gotta wake your legs up and we got to go to school.'"

Days earlier, Jessica had felt tingling in her legs, but after a trip to the emergency room, doctors found no signs of anything serious and sent her home, Jeff Shainberg said. But now they family was headed back to the hospital.

Doctors at Vanderbilt Children's Hospital diagnosed Jessica with transverse myelitis, or inflammation of the spinal cord. Doctors then told the teen and her family there was only a one-third chance she would be able to walk normally again, according to Jeff Shainberg.

"They don’t know where or when it occurs," Jeff Shainberg said of the inflammation's cause. "They didn’t have any way to trace it. ... They didn’t find any infections in the spinal fluid."

The teen's father said doctors told the family that if Jessica wasn't able to walk within about six weeks then she was unlikely ever to be able to walk again.

For a week, Jeff Shainberg said that his daughter showed no improvement. Then, he said, she was suddenly able to feel a tingling sensation in her toes again. While just a small improvement, the teen was sure that she could recover.

"I was like, 'There we go, there we go,'" Jessica Shainberg told ABC News affiliate WKRN-TV in Nashville. "That’s the building block to everything else I’ll be doing."

To help the teen rehabilitate her legs in the short time frame, the family traveled to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite Hospital. During the weeks of rehabilitation, the teen surpassed all of her doctor's expectations, according to her father.

"Every day she’s getting better and stronger. It’s a miracle," said Jeff Shainberg. "She just always had a great attitude and was willing to do the work with the therapist. They loved her attitude and they wanted to work with her continuously."

Now the teen, an honor roll student and tennis player, is not only walking she's been able to do some light running.

In Atlanta, doctors also realized that Jessica had signs of a rare inflammation of the brain, called Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis (ADEM), in addition to her inflamed spinal column, according to Jeff Shainberg. The second diagnosis could explain why she was able to recover relatively quickly, because patients with ADEM tend to have better recovery rates.

"The doctors didn’t expect her to recover like that," said Shainberg. "They were so impressed with her rehab. They hadn’t seen a patient like this in a while."

For now, the high school freshman remains out of school while she gets her strength back. Her father said she has a walker and wheelchair -- but never uses either unless she's standing for a long period of time and needs to sit.

"I’m so blessed and lucky to be able to be walking again," Jessica Shainberg told WKRN-TV.

While the teen is likely to start school in a few weeks, her father said doctors are keeping a close eye on her as she recovers. If the rare symptoms reappear again, there's a chance it could be a sign of multiple sclerosis.