Sarah’s story: A viral reaction and a second chance


Imagine one day...

you're about to graduate from high school, excited for the next phase of your life, ready to start college. And then, two days later, you’re completely paralyzed from the neck down because of a rare virus. 

Sarah Mendenhall doesn’t have to imagine this because she lived it. 

After contracting acute flaccid myelitis in October 2016, she woke up in the ICU paralyzed, unable to even breathe on her own. Sarah and her doctors were left with only one choice: finding the most innovative treatment available. Working with UT Southwestern’s Peter O’Donnell Jr. Brain Institute and Dr. Benjamin Greenberg, Sarah began her long journey back to normality. 

In this case, innovation meant starting rehabilitation even while Sarah was still intubated. It was a controversial approach that, nevertheless, has paid dividends. Starting with just the simple movement of her thumbs, Sarah has progressed to driving and walking in a very short period of time.

Along the way, she’s had help from her service dog, Oliver, a spirited labradoodle, as well as friends, family, and even classmates.

It’s also given her a perspective that’s rare for someone so young. During her recovery, Sarah became a tutor in a middle school. “When I was in the hospital and ICU, I saw so many kids without a support system. I decided this would be a great opportunity to help those kids and create a support system for them,” says Sarah.

As for the future, Sarah puts it best when she says, “Oh man. I am looking forward to going off to school. I’m just really excited to experience it like a normal college kid and actually get to walk around campus and do the things that normal people do.”

Dr. Greenberg’s perspective: Treating paralysis with an advanced approach

Discover how advanced therapy and revamped rehab helped Sarah walk again.

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