Imagine for a moment being trapped inside your own body for four grueling years, unable to communicate with the outside world as your health continued to deteriorate while expert doctors offer your loved ones no signs of hope. Yet you were still there. In mind and spirit you were still you, desperately trying to find a way back to the life you once knew. Victoria Arlen has not only been through this astonishing battle simply to survive, but she has found ways to thrive and has turned her life’s challenges into an unending source of fuel that has led to extraordinary accomplishments.
Victoria Arlen was born on September 26, 1994 to Larry and Jacqueline Arlen. A healthy, active child, Victoria had everything to live for and a world of possibilities in front of her. But at eleven years old she began to get sick more and more often. In April of 2006, she began to experience unusual side pains then suddenly lost 30 lbs. in two weeks. She began to have trouble walking and within two weeks she had become paralyzed from the waist down. Doctors scrambled for answers, but none came. She began to slowly lose the ability to speak, eat, move and do everything we take for granted on a daily basis. Her health spiraled downward until she was left in a completely semi comatose vegetative state. Her parents and family were told not to expect a recovery and to prepare for the possibility that Victoria would die.
For years Victoria toiled in an existence of internal isolation, with only her family truly believing that she was still there and some way, somehow, she would be back. Eventually, in early 2009, the diagnosis came. It was Transverse Myelitis and Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis , two extremely rare neurological conditions. If treated within the first three months of the onset it can be cured and the symptoms can be reversed. Unfortunately by the time it had been discovered for Victoria, it had been three years since the initial onset and permanent damage was likely. There was little to no chance from the doctors that Victoria would survive let alone ever recover. They told Victoria’s family that she would not make it and if she did she would be a vegetable the rest of her life, unable to do anything.
What doctors did not realize was that Victoria was completely aware of what was going on. She was literally “locked” inside her own body with only the ability to control her mind. Feeling as if she was disconnected from her body. She was determined to live and defy the many odds put against her.
Doctors and medical caretakers worked hard to keep Victoria from worsening but any sort of recovery was medically ruled out. Her family took her home, set up a makeshift hospital room in the living room and continued to do everything they could to keep her alive. Always believing she would return, Victoria’s family as well as friends and complete strangers all over the world prayed for a miracle. A miracle for Victoria to survive and recover.
It is incredible how when the power of prayer and the grace of God is present how miracles do happen.
Their prayers were answered in December 2009 known now to the Arlen family as their Christmas miracle. Victoria for almost four years had worked hard each and every day to try and give a sign to her family and the doctors that she was still in there. She finally was able to give them a sign, this sign came in the form of blinking.
One blink for ‘yes’, two blinks for ‘no’. And this began Victoria’s impossible journey back. Now able to express herself for the first time in years, her spirits rose. The family was able to get her frequent seizures under control. After twenty shots of Botox in each hand, the severe spasms in her hands subsided and she regained some mobility in her fingers. She was able to point. Eventually raw sounds became words and she learned to speak again and to move her hands and arms. Having consumed no food for nearly five years, she learned to eat again. Inch by inch, she recovered after a virtual four year hiatus from life. Ultimately being taken from the outside world at the age of eleven only to return at nearly a fifteen years old. With the exception of movement in her legs due to the significant damage to her spine, the Victoria of old was back.
In September of 2010, Victoria began freshman year of high school. The last time she had been in a classroom was in the 5th grade. With little expectations from the faculty that she would be able to keep up, she applied the same “I can do anything I set my mind to” attitude that led her through her darkest hour to her schoolwork and she thrived. She made up all past work and graduated from high school in three years in time to join her two brothers (she’s a triplet) on graduation day in June 2013…a monumental accomplishment for the entire Arlen family.
Victoria recalls her brothers urging her to get back to swimming, a sport in which she excelled as a child. Terrified that without the use of her legs she would drown, she refused. But her brothers are as persistent as she is and eventually she relented. In June of 2010, she returned to the water for the very first time since her illness and so began an extraordinary journey of athletic accomplishment.
She began to swim and to swim often, then to compete in abled bodied and Paralympic swim competitions. It wasn’t long before she began to win and little by little her talent and determination drew her closer and closer to world class times.
In the spring of 2012, she qualified to compete in the London Paralympic Games. There, in what was Victoria’s first-ever international swim meet she went from swimming in front of a crowd of twenty to a sold out crowd of twenty thousand. She won a gold medal in the 100m Freestyle event in a new World Record time. Adding to the already impressive medal haul of three silver medals in the 50, 400 and the 4×100 Freestyle Relay.
She has become “America’s Sweetheart” and anyone who meets her immediately is drawn to the presence and light she brings into the room. She is a hero to all who meet her and Victoria’s definition on heroes are true to her nature “Heroes in real life don’t wear masks and capes. Sometimes they don’t stand out at all. But real heroes can save a life or many lives just by answering the call in their heart. In the darkest period of my life, when I couldn’t help myself, my heroes were there. … Sometimes we just need someone to lean over and whisper, ‘You can do it!”
She continues to defy the odds and make a difference in the world and the lives of others. She is an Actress, Model and Motivational Speaker. Despite all the obstacles and challenges that have been thrown her way Victoria has learned to tackle every challenge that comes her way with her motto: Face it, Embrace it, Defy it, and Conquer it!