Barrow Helps College Student Stand Tall Again After Being Paralyzed
Imagine waking up on Monday and going about your everyday life. Then, by Friday, you’re in the emergency room, in pain and unable to move, without any plausible explanation. This is exactly the situation that twenty-three-year-old Elijah (Eli) Martinez found himself in.
In November 2020, Eli was attending classes online at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, Arizona and working at a local grocery store. Just a few weeks before he was supposed to travel home to New Mexico for Thanksgiving, Eli came back from work and noticed that his neck was hurting. The next day, his right arm started tingling, and then became numb. Eli chalked it up to an old injury he probably irritated, but when his left arm started doing the same thing, he scheduled a virtual doctor’s appointment. It was suspected that he had a pinched nerve. However, when Eli tried to get out of bed the next morning and his legs gave out, he knew something was very wrong.
Panicked, Eli called his parents, who told him to go to the nearest emergency room immediately. He was admitted to the hospital, where his symptoms worsened severely. In less than a week, Eli’s health had completely deteriorated. He was in extreme pain and couldn’t move his body. Finally, Eli received a diagnosis: cerebral cavernous angioma, a cluster of dilated blood vessels with an enlarged, irregular structure that is prone to leaking and can cause a host of neurological issues. In Eli’s case, this was caused by an inherited genetic mutation, a rarity seen in only about 15 percent of occurrences.
When Eli’s parents heard the diagnosis, they took the next flight out to Phoenix. However, they were only able to spend a couple of hours with their son. “I was there with him in the ICU, when all of a sudden, we were told we had to leave because new COVID lockdown restrictions had just been announced,” says Eli’s father, Samuel. Even more troubling, Eli had caught pneumonia that night and wasn’t able to undergo surgery. Samuel recalls the nearly impossible odds Eli was up against, saying, “He couldn’t get the surgery, he couldn’t move his legs or arms, and he had a breathing tube in, so he couldn’t even talk.”
Eventually, the pneumonia cleared up and Eli was able to undergo surgery. However, the damage was already done. Eli was paralyzed from the neck down, and his life would never be the same. He knew that from this point on, he had an uphill battle to fight—one that would require extensive rehabilitation and test all his limits.
The first weeks in the hospital’s neuro-restorative unit were extremely difficult for Eli as he struggled to adjust to his physical limitations and the reality of a whole new way of life. Then, a physician recommended the Neuro-Rehabilitation Center at Barrow Neurological Institute. That’s when Eli found hope again.
When he got to Barrow, Eli began to improve greatly, both physically and mentally. “Being at Barrow made me feel happier than I had in a long time,” he says. Samuel also noticed the change in his son’s disposition, saying, “He was in a much better mindset there, and it was so good to see him happy again.”
The change in Eli’s disposition had a lot to do with his incredible rehabilitation team, who challenged him to give his recovery his all and pushed him to accomplish tasks he never dreamed of doing again. “They wanted to make sure that I got the most out of everything that I was doing, no matter what it was. They made sure that I was improving every single day,” he explains.
With the cutting-edge innovation and technology at Barrow, Eli was able to do something he thought would never again be possible—walk. “With the help of my physical therapist, I was able to get into the exoskeleton, which was really incredible to walk in,” he says. Those were the first steps Eli had taken since arriving at the emergency department many long months ago. By the time he left Barrow, Eli was able to brush his teeth, take a shower, get ready, and do a wheelchair transfer by himself, all huge accomplishments.
“Eli really lifts me up and is so positive. He may get frustrated, but he has never given up and that amazes me,” says Samuel. “He’s such a good guy, and for him to go through this has been extremely hard. I just want to see him be independent again.” That is why the whole family is considering moving to Phoenix, so Eli can receive the best care possible at Barrow.