A former Edmonton mixed martial arts fighter is facing a new type of battle, after spending months in hospital with a rare neurological condition.
Victor Valimaki, 37, first noticed symptoms in his legs, which worsened over time. He knew it was getting bad when he fell down the stairs.
“About halfway down my legs just shut off completely — it was an off switch — shut my legs off. So I did a head-over-heals down the stairs,” said Valimaki, who is the first person from Edmonton area to compete in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).
He continued losing muscle function, affecting movement and speech. Valimaki lost his vision for a few days and had memory problems.
“It was really scary,” Valimaki said. “I didn’t know what was going on with me, and I couldn’t move my arms or my legs or anything. It was pretty bad for a while.”
After months of tests and misdiagnoses, doctors at University of Alberta Hospital concluded Valimaki had a rare neurological condition called neuromyelitis optica, also known as Devic’s disease.
The inflammatory condition affects the protective covering of spinal cord and optic nerves.
“He’s not willing to give up and he’s willing to kill this thing and fight it and keep going,” said Terry Kopp, who has been friends with Valimaki for about 20 years.
“I’m very proud of him. Seriously, the proudest friend in the world.”
Kopp set up a Gofundme page to help cover expenses. Valimaki has two daughters and hasn’t been able to work. His mother’s home — where he plans to stay during recovery — also needs to be retrofitted with hardware such as accessible railings.
Funds raised will go towards expenses such as hospital parking, treatments not covered by health care, and renovating his mother’s home.
Valimaki’s speech has improved and he is working to gain strength and walk unassisted. He doesn’t plan to fight again, but hopes to coach and resume his home security business.
“I’m very optimistic, Valimaki said. “It’s going to take a lot of work and a lot of physio, but I will keep improving.”