Imagine having not one, but two children with spinal cord injuries. For the Buckles family of Northern Virginia, this is their reality.
Erin Buckles and her twin sister, Jade, 12, were born conjoined. During a separation surgery as an infants, Erin sustained a stroke in her spinal cord.
“After the surgery Erin wasn’t moving her legs and Jade was kicking and moving all over the place,” recalls Melissa, their mom. “At first nobody was concerned… it was such a miraculous surgery and they both survived.”
But, when the twins had their six-month vaccinations, while Jade cried like all babies do, Melissa noticed that Erin didn’t bat an eyelash. “At that moment I knew that something was very wrong.”
An MRI followed, and that’s when Melissa learned the devastating news: Erin had sustained a stroke that had caused paralysis.
“I went through a mourning period where my dreams for her had to change, and I wasn’t sure what she would be able to do and not do,” recalls Melissa, fighting back tears.
But her mourning was quickly replaced with cautious optimism. After being told that Erin would never walk again, Melissa brought Erin to the International Center for Spinal Cord Injury (ICSCI) at Kennedy Krieger Institute, where doctors and therapists don’t believe in setting limits.
ICSCI uses advanced restorative techniques (ABRT) to help patients with spinal cord injuries recover function, mobility, and independence. The center offered what Melissa and so many other families of children with spinal cord injuries seek: hope.
“ICSCI is a really special place,” says Rebecca Martin, occupational therapist and manager of clinical education and training. “It’s a place where we won’t say no… We’re dedicated to helping patients achieve their best possible outcomes.”
Facing the Unthinkable
Learning your child is paralyzed is traumatic enough, but an uncanny twist of fate left the family facing the unthinkable. When the twins’ older sister, Taylor, began falling inexplicably, she underwent an MRI, which showed a tumor on her spinal cord. Melissa was in disbelief that yet another of her children had a spinal cord injury.
Melissa turned again to Kennedy Krieger Institute. The next time Erin went to ICSCI, Taylor came too. Erin and Taylor have now been undergoing therapy for the past 10 years. Their injuries are very different, but both have made great strides in therapy.
Through advanced restorative techniques, Erin has gained significant function and can now walk short distances with braces. She is independent, goes to school full time, and has become an amazing wheelchair basketball player. Taylor is also benefiting from therapy and is now walking with braces.
The Best is Yet to Come
I’m really proud of how far Erin and Taylor have come,” says Martin. “And to be a little part of that is really a gift. It’s why I became a therapist.
To overcome so much adversity takes enormous fortitude. Both Erin and Taylor are determined, much like their mother, whom Martin describes as “a super strong woman who is the epitome of compassion and dedication.”
Melissa, for her part, is grateful they found Kennedy Krieger and can’t imagine where they would be otherwise. “It’s changed our lives tremendously.”
Both Taylor and Erin continue their therapy each year, with the goal of maintaining or gaining function. Taylor is walking and Erin is independently mobile with her wheelchair, but Melissa is confident that the best is yet to come. “I believe that with the therapies at Kennedy Krieger and with technologies advancing every day...Erin is going to walk someday.”