VIDEO: Watch as woman walks after 12 years of agony
WHEN you suffer from a one-in-a-million condition, it can get to the point where it feels like nobody would ever believe you.
Rhonda Hodges spent 12 years in agony, unable to walk or sit comfortably in a chair and only leaving the house for medical appointments.
After a chance meeting in a medical clinic with a Mater specialist, Mrs Hodges is not only walking again, she has regained life skills most people take for granted.
Stiff Person Syndrome left 61 year-old Mrs Hodges paralysed below the waist and unable to move her legs or feet due to very severe spasticity and dystonia, a movement disorder in which the muscles contract uncontrollably.
For years she suffered tremors in her arms and spasms in her legs and many doctors she saw believed it was all in her head.
Yet as time went on her condition deteriorated, with Mrs Hodges bed-bound in agony for two to three days at a time.
The condition reached its peak when she arrived home from work 12 years ago and collapsed in her husband arms, unable to walk again―until now.
It was the beginning of her complete loss of independence as her husband did his best to keep the family farm running while looking after her.
Dr Saul Geffen, a specialist in rehabilitation medicine, first saw Mrs Hodges in June this year.
After his initial treatments were ineffective, he sought advice from neurology colleagues and arranged admission to Mater's Brisbane Centre for Neurosciences.
Neurologist Dr Stephan Blum diagnosed Stiff Person Syndrome after caring for 10 previous patients in his career, and discussed with fellow neurosurgeon Dr Rob Campbell a different treatment option.
They trialled their theory by injecting a dose of intrathecal baclofen into Mrs Hodge's spinal fluid.
Mrs Hodges was overjoyed with the outcome.
"I woke in the morning and could wiggle my toes… I was just so happy."
With a positive trial dose, the clinical team proceeded with their plan to insert a baclofen pump via catheter into Mrs Hodge's spinal cord.
While the baclofen pumps have been used for many years for other conditions like cerebral palsy and multiple sclerosis, the combination with baclofen for treatment of Stiff Person Syndrome has never been used in Australia and only a few times worldwide.
The results were immediately life-changing for Mrs Hodges, who was able to move her legs and comfortably sit in a chair the morning after her operation and after three days was up on her feet and walking.
Dr Geffen says he was thrilled to be able to offer a solution to a family who thought they had no further options.
"For the past ten years Rhonda has essentially been house-bound, dependant on her husband and unable to walk or to sit in a normal chair," Dr Geffen said.
"I've worked in many hospitals in my career and I'm always impressed with the ethos I encounter with difficult and unusual cases at Mater―we have expert medical help, dedicated nurses and enthusiastic allied therapy staff.
"Rhonda's life has been changed―we've turned a miserable and worsening situation around! She's a hard-working and brave lady who has given 100 per cent in rehab," he said.
It's the simple things like setting the table for a meal, sweeping the floor and rounding up the cows on her property that Mrs Hodges hasn't been able to do for years.
"I'm so excited to get out and herd the cows-I don't care if I get dirty or step in a cow pat, I'm just so happy to be outside!" she said.
"I can't sit still at all now-there's always a job needing to be done. It wasn't always this easy.
"People used to think I was crazy, that I was making it up or it was just all in my head."
Taking her independence to a new level, Mrs Hodges said she was planning a special Christmas visit to see her son in Townsville at Christmas.
"I'm so excited to have booked the flights-I just can't wait to see my son and his family! Travelling is something I haven't done in a very long time," she said.
"Being housebound and in pain all the time took its toll on my husband as well as me. I was so miserable, I couldn't do anything except lay around as my legs couldn't bend at all.
"My time in rehab has been really great. I have been supported by my physio Denis, who has encouraged me every step of the way.
"I've been given a second chance, and I feel so blessed, so grateful to Dr Geffen and all the Mater people involved in giving me my life back."