By Chloe Sweet @_chloesweet
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Videographer / director: JP Steele
Producer: Chloe Sweet, Ruby Coote
Editor: Beth Angus
Sarah Todd Hammer, from Atlanta, was just eight years old when she developed acute flaccid myelitis, a rare neurological condition which left her unable to move her arms and hands.
Acute flaccid myelitis is a polio-like illness that is caused by a virus attacking the spinal cord. It is most commonly developed during childhood and can trigger a rapid onset of weakness in the muscles – particularly affecting the arms and legs.
Sarah Todd was first taken into hospital when she was eight years old, after complaining that she was experiencing a painful headache during her ballet class. But by the time she was taken to the emergency room, she was paralysed from the neck down.
Sarah Todd told Barcroft TV: “They flew me by helicopter to the nearest hospital and I remained in the emergency room for six hours with no treatment.
“I was told that if I wasn’t better in the morning to just bring me back, and I woke up the next morning unable to move my legs and feet.
“I remained in the hospital for two months where I was in the ICU for 12 days.”
Despite eventually regaining control of her legs through physical therapy and a plasma exchange, Sarah Todd still has severe muscle weakness in her arms and hands and she has trouble using them.
This affects the way that she completes even the simplest of tasks, including getting dressed, showering and tying her hair.
The teenager said: “I am unable to do buttons and zippers on clothes so getting dressed is almost impossible.
“Until I was 15 I never really actually got to take a shower by myself.”
Since then, she has invested in adaptive clothing and her family have added a range of accessible features to their home. For example, Sarah Todd’s bathroom has been custom-fitted to include touch pad shower controls and sensor soap dispensers.
She added: “It was really emotional for me the first time I took a shower in my bathroom – I was really excited because I was being independent.”
But despite how many small difficulties she faces day-to-day, she refuses to let her disability hold her back from making impressive accomplishments.
At just 11 years old, Sarah Todd published her first auto-biographical book ‘5k, Ballet and a Spinal Cord Injury’, and has published another two books since. She also continues to dance, and choreographs moves to adapt to her disability.
“I still have a really good life, I always tell people that I am still a normal teenager just with few other challenges.
“I always just told myself that I would be able to dance again and then when I stood up on my tip-toes in therapy I knew that I’d be able to start doing it again.”
Sarah Todd’s mother, Lisa, told Barcroft TV: “One thing that was hard for us to understand with acute flaccid myelitis was why did it happen, and no one could really tell us that even for years on.
“I love her determination to continue dancing, because it really was her first love.
“It is hard to watch your child struggle, but then it is even more rewarding to watch them accomplish.”
Sarah Todd added: “I still have a disability but I still continue to dance just like I would if I didn’t have a disability, I just do it in my own way.
“I think in my opinion dancing is what you want it to be.”