This blog post is Part 1 of a multi-part series about Dustin’s experience with the Ottobock C-Brace. For more information about C-Brace technology, visit our site, or sign up for a free C-Brace evaluation.
In early 2013, I started getting headaches once or twice a week. I thought nothing of it, just took some ibuprofen and went on with my day. I was away for training with the Air Force when I called my wife one morning before I headed out. I told her I had some tingling and numbness in my arm. I figured I slept on it wrong or might have injured it slightly in a training exercise or something. I finally finished my training, and my family moved once again. This time we were in Oklahoma, which was a huge change for us, but a good change. I started working at my job, as normal. But my headaches were getting more frequent, with migraines every once in a while. My arm would tingle or hurt after a headache, along with my leg. It was always on the right side of my body. I started having issues walking due to the loss of feeling. I was hospitalized a couple times with no diagnosis. Life was starting to become more difficult trying to juggle my work and my new illness.
I grew up in rural Indiana as an 80’s child. I enjoyed playing outdoors, video games, and music, as did most people of my generation. I was always a good student and a great child (that’s what I tell myself) growing up. After getting through high school, I decided to enroll in college and was accepted to Ball State University. I spent the next few years going to school full time and working at a nearby hospital. I also met my wonderful girlfriend, who would later become my wife. We had our daughter shortly after I graduated with my degree I worked so hard for.
I struggled to find employment with my degree. I still had my same college job years later, and needing a new career and more out of life, I decided to serve my country. I joined the U.S. Air Force in January 2010. This was a big change, but one of the best decisions of my life (other than marrying my wife). I left my family behind for basic training and was a whole new person a few months later when we were reunited. I was trained as a meteorologist for the Air Force and loved every minute of my job. For the next few years we did the Air Force thing. Moved a couple times, met new friends, and enjoyed life. We had our son while I was in the Air Force. Life was going as planned with two children and two dogs, just no white picket fence yet. That was until my life started changing for the worse, and Ottobock would come to the rescue just over a year later.
On September 10th 2013 I had a very bad migraine, which completely changed my life. I went to bed with a migraine on the 10th and woke up on September 11th with no movement or feeling in my right leg and struggling with my right arm also. My wife took me to the hospital once again with doctors thinking I might have had a stroke. I was sent to a larger medical center where I was finally diagnosed with Hemiplegic Migraines. I had never heard of such a thing. I was very confused with what I had been told. This is when Google and Facebook became my best friends. I did a lot of research and joined The International Hemiplegic Migraine Foundation‘s Support Group. The group was great, explaining to me that I had a rare disease that most people have never heard of. By this time I was released home with a wheelchair because it is really difficult to walk around with one leg, you should give it a try. I absolutely hated getting in my wheelchair every day. It felt like all the people would stare when I wheeled by. I would get a little feeling or a very slight movement in my leg and/or hand, then another migraine would take it away. I was missing out on time with my family being in my chair and with migraines very often.
Being in the military, it was harder to be taken seriously when you were in a wheelchair. My supervisors were great at working with me, but they just didn’t understand what I was going through with my life. I would still go into work as much as I could because I couldn’t give up on my career that I loved. Being able to use one hand (which wasn’t my dominant) and one leg made everyday chores nearly impossible. I went on with the next year of my life rolling around in my chair and my one good hand. I spent many days a week at the doctor’s office trying to figure out a fix. I tried many medications to help stop my migraines, which in theory should’ve helped me recover the feeling in my arm and leg.
Meanwhile, I was fighting to keep my career with the Air Force. I spent many sleepless nights thinking about how I could stay in the Air Force. Knowing very well that I wasn’t medically able to hold down my career due to this illness, a doctor in the military informed me that they were going to send me to a medical board to see if I was fit for service. This was my worst nightmare: losing my job that I had put blood, sweat, and tears into. There was little I could do about this other than try to delay the process by writing appeals in the hopes I would get better before they got through all the paperwork.
My wheelchair wore on my body so much. I had back pain before my wheelchair, but after being in a wheelchair for a while, my back hurt more than normal, as did my shoulders. I didn’t understand how long-term wheelchair users do it with all the wear and tear it does on their body. I went to a doctor in June or July of 2014 because of the shoulder pain. He told me they needed to get me out of the wheelchair to help with my shoulders. I thought sarcastically, Yeah it’s just that easy, I could jump up and start walking immediately. Little did I know, this was the moment being in a wheelchair was going to change. He sent me over to talk to a great couple who owned a business, not too far away.
I went to meet Nick and Connie Chelenza who were the owners of Texoma Orthotics and Prosthetics in Oklahoma. They were all smiles when I walked in and about the nicest people you could ever meet. Little did I know between them and Ottobock I would have a huge change coming. I spent the next hour or so having them examine my condition and take many notes. I was figuring they would say there wasn’t much they could do for me. To my surprise, they mentioned a new technology. This new technology was called the C-Brace by Ottobock. I told them I would try anything to be able to walk. They explained they knew little about it, but they would get the information and learn what they needed to get me a chance to try it.