BY MAGGY ESSERMAN-RICE, CONTRIBUTOR
Joseline Nicole Castillo woke up with a mysterious illness one February morning. She had trouble moving. “It happened in a matter of two days,” Castillo recalls. “It started with a weird tingly feeling in my legs, like when you sit down for a long time.”
Castillo is a senior at Wilson who has been diagnosed with transverse myelitis, an autoimmune disease that paralyzed the lower half of her body.
“That day, I was getting weaker and weaker. I couldn’t support myself that much. I could walk still, but it was hard, and I had a terrible headache.” At that time, she was living in the Dominican Republic, where she moved when she was one.
When she woke up the next day with the same horrible headache, she realized she couldn’t feel anything below her waist or move her right leg; she was terrified. She is still unsure what caused the disease, but she thinks it might have something to do with a respiratory infection she had contracted after an earlier bout of the flu. According to the National Institutes of Health, transverse myelitis often occurs as a result of viral infections and is most common in teenagers and adults into their thirties.
Her symptoms gradually got worse. “At that time, from my chest down, I couldn’t move, and my right arm got [affected]. I didn’t have any coordination with my right hand, and my right eye was drooping.” Doctors in the Dominican Republic didn’t seem to know that much about transverse myelitis, so Castillo moved to the U.S. to be treated at Johns Hopkins. She now lives with her aunt and cousin. She commented that most public places in DC have ramps and are generally pretty accessible to people in wheelchairs.
“Now I have [physical therapy] two days a week for one to two hours. [The doctors] hope for full recovery but they just don’t know.” Castillo says she’s been improving through intensive physical therapy, and she can now get around on crutches without needing her wheelchair. She also tried out the Wilson pool and was delighted to find she could still swim.
Castillo also says she is happy with the way Wilson has accommodated her. She has access to the elevators and gets extra time to make it to her classes. The only thing she doesn’t like is that the track isn’t wheelchair accessible: a steep grass hill prevents her from reaching it. “I guess you could do it if someone was pushing your wheelchair, but if you were doing it by yourself, I wouldn’t recommend it!” she says.
Castillo says she’s very grateful for all the support from Wilson, and that having a support system is very important. “I have made it this far with the huge amount of support that my family and friends have given me.” She commented that her best days during her treatment were when she was surrounded by friends and family.
She says that she doesn’t let her disability keep her from living a normal life: “I don’t see my disability as something that deprives me of doing something. It just makes me do things in a new way.” •