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Fr. Mark Hodges Fr. Mark Hodges

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Dancing with the Stars contestant was in a ‘vegetative state’ for 4 years as a child

Fr. Mark Hodges Fr. Mark Hodges
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Victoria Arlen fighting to walk in 2013.

HOLLYWOOD, California, October 18, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) — After Victoria Arlen spent four years in a “vegetative” state, many in the medical establishment had given up on her. Now she’s whirling across a stage competing on ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars.”

At age 11, Arlen started showing signs of two rare disorders that caused swelling in her brain and spinal cord. But doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong.

Untreated, she began to lose function in her legs, then her hands and arms. She couldn’t swallow and couldn’t think of the words she wanted to say. Ultimately, her body shut down completely. She fell into a Permanent Vegetative State (PVS).

After two years, nothing had changed on the outside, but Arlen “woke up inside a body that could not move.” She later explained, “I could hear the conversations going on around me, but I had no way of alerting anyone that I was aware they were there.”

Doctors told Arlen’s parents that there was no hope. The experts said their daughter would be a “vegetable” for the rest of her life.  

Though no one else knew it, “I heard those conversations,” Arlen later recalled. She lived for two more years unable to move or respond in any way as a cognizant “vegetable.”

Most parents with a daughter (or son) in such a condition for four years would have followed the advice of the experts and pulled the plug. What was the difference with Victoria Arlen’s case?

“But my parents believed in me,” Arlen testified. “They set up a hospital room in our house in New Hampshire and took care of me. My three brothers talked to me and kept me in the know about what was going on outside of my room.”

“They empowered me to fight and get stronger,” she said. “They didn’t know I could hear them, but I could.”

Finally, in 2009, after four years of being declared a human “vegetable,” Arlen made eye contact with her mother. Over the next year, she very slowly began “coming back to life.”  

“Raw sounds became words, became sentences,” she later described. “A twitch of my index finger became the wave of my hand.” Painstakingly slowly, “the ability to swallow pudding eventually led to me mowing on a steak.”

Arlen came back. However, she had lost the use of her legs.  

The swelling had severely damaged her spinal cord. She was permanently paralyzed from the waist down.

“You need to get used to being in a wheelchair” is what Arlen heard from every specialist. But again, there was something different about Victoria Arlen’s case.

“When my doctors said I would never walk, I didn’t believe them,” she later said. “My idea of what is possible had changed. ... I’d already overcome the impossible.”

And her parents backed up her efforts with superhuman devotion.  

“My parents promised they would do whatever it took to help me to walk again,” Arlen told ESPN. “They kept that promise. They never lost hope.”

An avid swimmer as a child, with the literal push of her brothers, Arlen found she could swim without her legs. Working tirelessly every day for two years, she gained strength and in 2012 made the U.S. Paralympic swim team. At age 17, she won three silver medals and one gold in the 100-meter freestyle.

“But I never lost my hope and vision for getting out of that chair,” she doggedly said.

Arlen and her mother moved to San Diego to train with a paralysis recovery center in San Diego called Project Walk. Strapped into a harness above a treadmill, Arlen was surrounded by trainers who moved her legs in the hope that somehow the constant activity would stimulate her legs to “wake up.” Eventually, her parents mortgaged their house to open Project Walk Boston in their hometown.

But the doctors cautioned that if there is no improvement after two years, there will never be improvement. For Arlen, it had been six years since she came out of her “vegetative” state.

“Despite agonizing frustration, I put in everything I had every day, spending thousands of hours working and fighting for one flicker of a sign that my legs were still alive,” Arlen related. “For the longest time, I didn’t see even a twitch of movement.”

Then, on November 11, 2015, “one of my trainers noticed a flicker,” she said. It was the tiniest movement from within Arlen’s right leg.

“It wasn’t much, but it was all the hope I needed,” she said. Grasping onto that tiny “flicker,” Arlen “fanned the flame,” and slowly began to show more progress. For five months, she trained her legs until they could hold her weight and she could keep her balance.

On March 3, 2016, after 10 years paralyzed in a wheelchair, “I let go of the crutches and put one foot in front of the other,” Arlen beamed. “I haven’t stopped since.”

Indeed, Arlen hasn’t stopped since. While “walking is still challenging and I still have significant impairment,” at age 22 Arlen is now competing in ABC-TV’s Dancing With The Stars. Her routine with professional dancer Val Chmerkovskiy danced out to her own story, beginning in a wheelchair and ending in an episode-winning foxtrot.

Arlen’s story shows that “human ‘vegetable’” is an oxymoron. As columnist Wesley J. Smith puts it, Christians must “never call (human beings) ‘vegetables,’ a term as denigrating and dehumanizing as a racial epithet.”

“I was told it couldn’t be done; my dream was impossible,” Arlen said.

“With God, all things are possible," Jesus said.

On Monday night, Arlen performed again on DWTS. She and her partner danced an amazing nostalgia-filled jazz routine as Minnie and Mickey Mouse. Her impossible routine may be seen here.

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