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Plano Soccer Player Fighting Back From Paralysis

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PLANO (CBSDFW.COM) - Imagine going to bed at night being able to move your arms and legs, then waking up paralyzed the next day — unable to move a muscle. For a Plano teenager who spent the majority of her time on a soccer field, it happened that quickly.

The girls of the McKinney Boyd High School soccer team are already hard at work this year. Fresh off their state championship win last year, their goal is to win it again. But for one member of the team, this year’s goal is just a bit different. “I will be back out on that field someday,” said Annie Altizer.

The 15-year-old has been playing soccer since she was just 4 years old. But two years ago, the morning after playing a soccer game, the seventh-grader woke up paralyzed. Doctors determined that she had contracted Transverse Myelitis — a rare condition where the body’s immune system attacks the nerves in the spinal cord. “It cut off the nerve connection from my brain to my legs,” Altizer explained.

The teen remembers every detail. “I got up and I collapsed to the floor. I could not walk,” she said. “I automatically started freaking out. My thought wasn’t ‘Oh my gosh, I’m paralyzed, what’s wrong with me?’ It was ‘Am I ever going to play soccer again?'”

Despite the grim diagnosis, Dr. Ben Greenberg — Annie’s neurologist from Children’s Medical Center — said that her dream of playing soccer was not completely lost. “I told her I can’t make any promises,” he said. “But as long as she keeps working, we’re keeping that as the goal.”

While in the hospital, the middle schooler received surprise encouragement from the McKinney Boyd High School girls soccer team. It was support that continued to pour in month after month. “We were just really impressed with Annie, and eventually she became a part of the varsity team,” said coach Michelle Estes. She and her players welcomed Altizer into their circle — even as an eighth-grader last year — taking her to the state championship and awarding her with a championship ring.

“They have given her the inspiration to keep working hard and work to recover,” said Altizer’s mother, Kim.

Now, as a freshman at McKinney Boyd High School, Altizer acts as the soccer team’s manager. “The girls just really embraced her and, like I said, I think she’s impacted our lives more than we have hers,” said Estes. “It’s amazing to see the progress she’s made.”

Now, two years since her diagnosis, Altizer is able to walk again, and continues to get stronger through continued physical therapy, which she does three times a week. “If you would ever ask Annie if she would change it… would you?” asked her mother.

“I probably wouldn’t,” Altizer said. “I like where I am right now.”

And through it all, with the help of her teammates, her resolve to play again has remained constant. Doctors say that her passion may just be the cure. “There’s no ‘if’ about it,” Altizer said. “I will be back playing with them someday.”

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