Finding light in the darkness
The challenges that Natasha Price has faced over the past 15 years would be insurmountable for most people, but becoming blind and paralysed has only made her stronger. On International Day of Persons with Disabilities, she tells This Is MedTech about her journey.
“On Boxing Day 2008 I woke up blind in my right eye. Within two weeks I had lost the vision entirely in both eyes. Until that point, I had no idea there was anything going on with me and initially put the symptoms down to my Type 1 diabetes,” explains Natasha. “I was treated with steroids, which didn’t improve the situation and I was sent to rehab to get used to living life as a blind woman.”
As if this wasn’t traumatic enough, Natasha started experiencing lower back pain and tingling soon afterwards – within two months, she was paralysed from the waist down. Doctors carried out extensive testing using medical technologies like brain and spine magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, which produce detailed internal images. They also took samples of her blood and spinal fluid.
While everything pointed to a rare condition called neuromyelitis optica (NMO) where the immune system damages the spinal cord and optic nerves, Natasha’s doctor ultimately decided that it was something rarer that might never get diagnosed.
This was difficult to come to terms with, especially after a relapse in 2012 left Natasha totally paralysed from the neck down. “I found myself pretty much bed-bound for another five years. I was content and accepting of my situation, having always dealt with things with humour, yet I’d convinced myself my life wouldn’t amount to anything,” she says. But one day, Natasha changed her mind. By 2017, part of the vision had returned to one eye and she had gained some mobility.
“I was lying in bed watching the Gold Coast wheelchair marathon on TV. I saw the Australian champion racer, Kurt Fearnley, pushing with fury and something inside me told me that’s what I needed to do,” she recounts. “I made the decision that day that I was going to complete the 42km marathon the following year. It was the hardest journey of my life, but I managed to go from barely able to transfer off my bed without support to completing the marathon a year later.”
Natasha hasn’t stopped since. In addition to competing in other races, she’s founded a company to support and empower people with disabilities. One piece of medtech that has been life-changing for her is a special electrical stimulation bodysuit that helps with her motor and muscle tone imbalance. “My pain levels have gone from a constant 10/10 to a 2/10 most of the time. It’s also sorted spasms, spasticity and so much more,” she explains.
We asked Natasha for some words of inspiration for others who may be facing disability. Here’s what she said: “While challenges can seem overwhelming, searching for the light in the dark, advocating for yourself and being strong willed will help. There is so much life beyond disability and poor health, it’s just different, that’s all. That doesn’t mean it’s any less rewarding or joyful, if you can let go of your past self.”