It started out as lower back pain. Then it morphed into a strange tingling sensation in her feet.
Doctors were left perplexed — until it got bad.
Two-time 26-year-old cancer survivor Melissa Smith was rushed to John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore last March with severe pain in her chest.
“It was like I had a fire burning on the inside,” she told TheBlaze, in an interview this week.
In a room alone, with no one at her side, a doctor diagnosed Smith with Transverse Myelitis, a disease that causes the body’s immune system to attack the spinal cord. It would ultimately leave her paralyzed from her waist down.
“It was the scariest thing that has ever happened to me and probably will ever happen,” she said. “I started to spiral about my future and my career being over, I was very anxious.”
“I told one of my best friends first, I also called my oncologist in hopes she would give me a different diagnosis, why? I don’t know, I was just so scared, I didn’t know what to do,” Smith continued. “I wasn’t totally paralyzed yet but it was coming and fast.”
The 26-year-old student then said she was kicked out of a nursing program at Anne Arundel Community College.
But that wasn’t her most menacing problem. Smith, completely paralyzed by June, was living on the third floor of an apartment building that had no elevator and could only leave if someone carried her down the stairs.
“The first summer, I was so depressed,” she said. “I was trapped in a third floor apartment with no elevator. I didn’t get to leave my house all summer and fall unless I went to a doctors appointment because I didn’t want to burden anyone with carrying me down [the stairs].”
“I felt totally out of control of every part of my life,” Smith added. “When other people would see it (her being carried down the stairs) and watch it just made me so sad. I cried about it a lot. Felt like I had zero control. Felt like my life was over.”
Not only was Smith unable to escape her own apartment, she was also drowning in medical bills.
Her sister, Stephanie, decided to take action and repeatedly sent her sister’s story to the popular Chive Charities, a website that raises money for individuals by featuring and publicizing their story.
After months of pitching Smith’s story to the charity, they finally selected her to feature on their popular fundraising website this month.
“It was like a breath of fresh air knowing my sister has a future that is not a nursing home and could potentially feel like a human again and get a house where she could have some independence,” Stephanie told TheBlaze.
Within minutes of publishing her story on Chive’s website, thousands had been raised.
“When we started the reading the day the story went live, Chive told me to go to the GoFundMe site and I had like 40 people around me and I was thinking to myself, ‘Obviously we just finished reading, no one could have donated yet!,’” Smith said. “But it was almost to 10k when we shifted to that page!”
“I cried,” she continued. “I was so shocked. I never imagined I could touch so many people.”
And the money kept rolling in.
To date, nearly $400,000 has been donated to Smith’s cause.
“I am so thankful and feel so blessed, so lucky, so loved and so honored that they chose me and believe in me so much,” she said. “That’s what means so much to me, everyone has so much faith in me and its helping me find a little more faith In myself that I lost a little bit the last 18 months or so.”
Smith said she is responding to each and every email she receives.
“I don’t really know how to appropriately thank every single person for giving me that faith back and all of their support, it truly has touched my heart so deeply and just want to give back in any way that I can for the rest of all time,” she said.
With the money, Smith says she plans to purchase a standing frame, new wheelchair, put a downpayment on a handicap friendly home and settle some of her medical debt. Coincidentally, she said the same day her story was published on Chive, a bill collector called demanding money.
Nonetheless, Smith says she still sometimes has trouble maintaining a positive outlook. She said she had cried as recent as a few days ago.
“I was trying to stand using parallel bars,” she, a former avid runner, explained, “And when I stood all this pressure came over my chest … and I just started crying. The pain and frustration just hits me unexpected sometimes.”
But, Smith says she has found new hope.
“I still have days where I worry about if someone will want to be with me, will I have a family, what am I going to do for a living now,” she said.
“I have a lot of fears but I’m in a very different place now than I was one year ago,” Smith continued. “I wasn’t sure if I could handle my own life this time last year.”
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