Big goals despite mystery paralysis

Zoe Lindsay
Zoe Lindsay

All Zoe Lindsay wants for Christmas is to walk again.

Lindsay, 22, is preparing to spend her second Christmas in a wheelchair after she woke up completely paralysed down the left side of her body in September last year.
In the final year of her Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology at the University of Canterbury, life couldn't have been going better for the young Timaru woman.
Then, on July 8, the day of her 21st birthday, she began suffering seizures - on buses, at university and at home.

The seizures continued and Lindsay was diagnosed with epilepsy.

But on September 16, she returned home from work and experienced weakness down the left side of her body, and had facial droop and slurred speech.

She was admitted to hospital and parents Ron and Sandra Lindsay rushed to Christchurch to be by her side.

By the next morning, Lindsay had lost all feeling on the left side of her body, and it has never returned.

Medical professionals are stumped by the cause of Lindsay's hemiplegia - paralysis of one side of the body - and are not sure if, or when, she will walk again.

But Lindsay has no question in her mind she will walk.

"I'm absolutely determined I will and take nothing else as a possibility," she said.

Her determination to fight also saw her complete her degree by distance this year, and she is looking to the future.

Zoe wants to complete a postgraduate qualification in child and family psychology at the University of Canterbury, and said her rollercoaster journey would be hugely beneficial when dealing with people facing similar challenges.

But the move back to Christchurch comes with some big hurdles that she will face on her own.

"It's quite a scary transition, especially because it's a new identity for me," she said.

"I've not been the person in the wheelchair, that's never been me. I've always been a really independent person up until now so being seen in a wheelchair is still a really daunting thing for me.

"But it's my absolute passion going into child and family psychology, so that's a huge benefit and a huge motivation for me - but it's still scary."

Finding somewhere to live, and a mode of transport that will accommodate her power chair, are issues to be faced before she moves.

"The difficult thing at the moment is trying to find suitable accommodation in Christchurch that's close to Teacher's College," she said.

"I have a power chair so that's going to be my mode of transport, so it's trying to find somewhere that's going to be OK for me to have a chair in.

"The other thing I'm in the process of sorting is [that] if I'm going to be having placements I'm going to have to find ways of getting there, and taxis aren't always an option.

"So I'm starting to look at getting a van that's got a wheelchair hoist so I can transport myself around, because at the moment we don't have a van.

"We're also trying to identify problems I'm going to have in terms of being on my own, like cooking, and the more independent things that I have support with here - how I'm going to do it there."

Lindsay said her parents, who she is living with again in Timaru after three years flatting in Christchurch, are "God-sends".

"My parents have given up a lot to help with what I need and when I have those down days, because you have them, they know how to let me feel sorry for myself for a while, then give me a good kick and flick me back out of that and move on."

She has an appointment with a neurologist in December who has asked to see her in an attempt to diagnose the cause of her hemiplegia.

"I'm actually really lucky that he's asked to see me, because he's got a lot of background in research and huge medical experience," she said.

"So he's seen a lot of different scenarios, including autoimmune disorders, right down to PTSD type disorders, and he's got some ideas of what it could be.

"Hopefully he finds something, but I'm also prepared for the fact he may not."

Initially frustrated by a lack of diagnosis for her paralysis, Lindsay has changed her focus a year on.

"I know that having a diagnosis is obviously huge to knowing how to fix something, but if you spend all your energy trying to figure out what has caused it, I don't think that's always beneficial," she said.

"Now my focus has changed to trying to find ways to walk again, and getting back to uni, and getting back to following the dreams that I had before this happened."