‘Kung fu taught me to survive’: Edmonton woman paralyzed by rare disorder
After dedicating her life to martial arts, an Edmonton woman was told she may never walk again. Now she’s being recognized by the hospital staff she inspired.
Melanie Beckett, 31, spent five years studying kung fu on a mountain in China. When she finally returned home, she was ready to open her own kung fu school. But a few months later, in May of 2015, a bad headache derailed her dream.
“That night, I woke up and my hands and feet were numb. So I freaked out,” Beckett recalled.
She was admitted to hospital and by the next day, she could no longer walk, talk or even breathe for herself. A neurologist diagnosed her with Guillain-Barre syndrome; her immune system was attacking her nerves.
“The sicker she got… it was hard to watch,” her father, Dean Beckett, said while choking back tears.
For more than six weeks, Beckett communicated by pointing at letters on a board. She meditated through the pain, staring at photos of herself in various kung fu poses.
By the time she was wheeled into Edmonton’s Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital, she was ready for the fight of her life.
“(Beckett) couldn’t even really wheel her chair around much,” physical therapist Andrew Kwok recalled. “She needed to be helped getting in and out of bed.”
Kwok said he feels Beckett’s martial arts training was invaluable in rehab. Despite the pain, she was disciplined, driven and remarkably realistic.
“Just right from the get-go, she understood that she might need a wheelchair for the rest of her life and didn’t let any of it phase her.”
According to Beckett, “There’s always the possibility that you’re not going to recover. You don’t know.”
“If you’re not willing to put in the effort, then you’re never going to know how far you could go.”
After months of physical and occupational therapy, inspiring staff and fellow patients, Beckett returned to kung fu classes in Stony Plain even though she couldn’t walk yet.
“I started going (to classes) in a wheelchair and then eventually, I was going in my walker,” she said. “I would roll my walker out on (the mat) and do some stuff. And then I’d have to sit down.”
More than a year after her initial illness, Beckett admits it’s still hard to watch others perfect the techniques she once mastered. But she has stuck with the lessons and is now teaching a kung fu boot camp.
“Kung fu really taught me how to survive.”
Glenrose staff will present Beckett with an Award of Courage at a ceremony this fall.
“Patients like Mel just kind of remind us… why we’re doing this,” Kwok said.
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