ST. LOUIS – A John Burroughs High School student is walking again after doctors predicted she would be paralyzed from the neck down.
A neurosurgeon in Phoenix successfully removed the lesion, giving the teen her life back.
For eight years, Ivy Goldson, 17, spent summers at mountaineering camp in Colorado. Goldson is an avid hiker, scaling 10 mountains one day and a mountain range another.
"I did an entire mountain range with five mountains over 13,000 feet, 24 miles, started at 2 a.m., ended at like 7 p.m.," she said.
On July 28, without warning or incident, Goldson's life changed in an instant. While hanging out with her friends at camp, she suddenly could not move or feel anything from the neck down.
"I couldn't feel my legs, my arms, and I couldn't feel myself breathe, which is terrifying," she said.
Goldson was rushed to a Denver hospital. Her parents, Rob and Tory, met her there a few hours later.
"It was basically every parent's worst nightmare," said Tory, Goldson's mother.
After numerous tests, Goldson was diagnosed with arteriovenous malformation (AVM). An MRI showed blood in her spine.
"It felt like there was fire running through my veins in the back of my head," said Goldson.
Dr. Michael Lawton, president and CEO of Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, said AVM is "an abnormal connection between arteries and veins. It forms a tangle of blood vessels where the blood flows under high pressure directly into veins because it's missing capillaries."
Goldson's AVM ruptured causing her temporary paralysis. Doctors in Denver and in St. Louis told Goldson's family her AVM was inoperable.
When Goldson regained mobility and began to walk again, doctors called it a miracle.
"But, of course, that miracle was then followed by there's a very high chance that it will rupture again," said Tory.
Goldson said it caused her great stress knowing her AVM could rupture again at any time, and it was unlikely she would recover as well from a second rupture.
Goldson's family was referred to Lawton, a neurosurgeon who has successfully treated AVMs. Lawton calls it an exceptionally rare condition, and only 1/100th of a percent of people will experience an AVM in their spinal cord. Doctors are studying what causes AVMs.
Goldson's case was further complicated because her AVM was in the middle of her spinal cord. Even the slightest mistake could have left Goldson paralyzed in both arms and legs.
Lawton successfully removed Goldson's AVM from her spine in November, eliminating her risk for paralysis.
After surgery, Goldson went through intense therapy to regain function in her limbs. Just one week after spinal surgery, the team at Barrows got her walking again.
"They have this thing called an exoskeleton, and they sit you into it, and they strap you in, and it walks for you," she said. "So even if you're completely paralyzed, they can make you walk. It re-taught me how to walk, and it was really, really cool."
When Goldson returned to St. Louis after surgery, she was still using a wheelchair. About one month later, Goldson is walking and even jumping.
"I learned a lot about Ivy during this process, because I knew she was strong but she just definitely blew me away with her strength and her determination to get through this,” said Tory.
For now, Goldson is working on being able to write and drive again. She is getting some support from a new friend.
While Goldson was in the hospital, a family friend gave her a card with a bright idea.
"It said, 'Now is the time to ask for a pony,' so I said, 'Well, I don't want a pony, but how about a puppy?'"
Goldson said 12 days later, her dad "caved." The Goldsons welcomed Wilbur the goldendoodle into their family.
"He's gotten me moving more, I would say, because it's kind of hard to sit still when you have a puppy jumping around," said Goldson.
Despite all the challenges she has faced this year, Goldson is current on her schoolwork at John Burroughs High School, and she plans to attend Colorado School of Mines on an academic scholarship next fall to study engineering.
She still has a way to go in her recovery. Goldson has control over her limbs and is moving around better, but she does not have sensation in her legs and hand. Doctors say it could take up to a year for the nerves to heal.
Tory says if anyone can make a full recovery, it is her daughter.
"She's 17, she's Ivy, and she's going to climb mountains again," she said.