ATLANTA - In Shepherd Center's Day Therapy gym, LaThea Adams is working hard to come back from a twist in the road she never saw coming, 13 years ago, when she was just 17.
"It was the third day of my senior year in high school," Adams remembers.
She woke up with numbness and tingling in her arms.
"I was rushed to the hospital, and within 24 hours, I was completely paralyzed, on a ventilator," Adams says.
She was diagnosed with transverse myelitis, an autoimmune-related inflammation of her spinal cord, in her case, along her neck. After more than a decade of rehabilitation, she can walk with assistance, but cannot move her arms and hands. She speaks in a whisper, her voice made raspy by her condition.
"My right vocal cord is paralyzed," she says. "That's why it's low and raspy like this."
With help from her mother, Adams has managed finish high school, and 3 years of college.
But rehabilitation is really her full-time job.
"She's very motivated," says Dr. Angela Beninga, a Shepherd Center physician who specializes in spinal cord injury and illness. "To show up so many years after an injury and being able to work toward recovery and improving and independence shows a lot of tenacity and fortitude."
One of the biggest challenges is paying for these sessions, which, Adams says, can cost $100 an hour. Dr. Beninga says insurance companies tend to cover acute spinal cord rehabilitation in the weeks and months after an illness or injury. But, the longer things drag on, the harder it is to get coverage for ongoing rehab.
Adams' provider recently agreed to pay for 10 more weeks at Shepherd Center.
Then, she'll have to stop, until she can find the money to start again, which
Dr. Beninga says that can slow her down.
"It would be like if many of us didn't exercise for six months, then to just getting back into a regular routine is going to take some time to make up for ground that was lost, and then to build from there," she says.
LaThea Adams hopes to find a way to cover a year or two uninterrupted, intense rehab, to make real progress. She's started a Go Fund Me account, but it's slow-going. But, she's not giving up on her dream of getting back as much mobility and strength as she can.
"It's very important," she says. "Even though it's 13 years later, I'm still young, 30 years old. I want to drive, I want to finish school and work and stuff."