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News / Health / Clark County Health

Vancouver woman back on her feet after losing ability to walk

Catherine Martinez randomly lost the ability to walk last year. It took about three months to get a diagnosis — transverse myelitis — but she’s walking again

By Wyatt Stayner, Columbian staff writer
Published: February 4, 2019, 6:05am
5 Photos
Catherine Martinez works out at 24 Hour Fitness Vancouver 131st Ave. Club.
Catherine Martinez works out at 24 Hour Fitness Vancouver 131st Ave. Club. (The Columbian files) Photo Gallery

On her 29th birthday, Catherine Martinez lost the ability to walk. That meant no birthday party, and that means she’s still 28 as far as she’s concerned.

“This year, I’m going to celebrate 29 and 30,” Martinez said. “Anytime someone asks how old I am, I still say ’28’ because I didn’t celebrate 29 yet, and I’ve always been big on birthdays.”

That birthday will come for Martinez on May 14, who was thrown into a random, inexplicable medical crisis last year. It started at 5:30 a.m. when Martinez woke up to use the restroom. She sat on her toilet and couldn’t go. That seemed weird. Then she noticed it didn’t even feel like she was sitting, and her hip area was cold and numb. Nevertheless, the Vancouver resident continued to work at a Spectrum call center, and within about an hour of being there, the numbness had traveled down her legs.

“It was like quicksand. Everything started getting heavier, and I couldn’t feel (my legs),” Martinez told The Columbian in June.

Martinez would stay at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center for about a month, without a full diagnosis for why she couldn’t walk. Over her stay there, sensation began to return to her legs.

“Every time it was a new spot, it was exciting, but also hurt at the same time,” Martinez said of the stabbing pains she would feel.

Then in late August, Martinez finally received a full diagnosis. She has transverse myelitis, a disorder caused by inflammation of the spinal cord. Martinez had lesions that had built up on her spine over time, which had started to impact her nerves and ability to walk.

Martinez did occupational therapy while in the hospital and continued physical therapy through October. She became known at PeaceHealth for her positivity during her stay. Martinez said that at times she was unsure if she’d walk again, but she didn’t let that dim her spirit. She practiced wheelchair basketball and other fun activities she could continue in a wheelchair.

“Either way, you got to keep living,” she said.

Martinez initially used a walker or a cane to get around, which gave her a new perspective.

“When you’re in your walker, every time you get up to do something, everybody stands,” Martinez joked.

The first time Martinez walked again by herself, she said it was about four steps from her bed to a dresser. Martinez said her niece cheered her on the whole time in an adorable way.

“It was pretty embarrassing to be 29, and only move three steps and be tired,” Martinez said. “I was ready for a nap after that.”

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She said getting to drive again was a favorite rehab moment because she felt like she didn’t have to rely on everybody anymore. Martinez returned to work in the summer and is now back to full-time status. Previously, she was a workaholic, and said that she now has better work-life balance.

She’s starting to exercise again as well and mentioned that when she gets in the “in the status of running, it’s awkward. But who really likes running away? It’s awkward already.”

Martinez said the experience was a positive one, and something she thinks will make her a more supportive and helpful person.

“I think I’ve got the same mentality, maybe a little brighter now,” she said.

Columbian staff writer