Taylor Peele’s AVM Story: A Rare Form of Paralysis

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For most people who experience the trauma of a sudden spinal cord injury, it stems from a blunt injury like a fall, a car accident or a sporting injury, but for Taylor Peele, a 27 year old woman from North Carolina, her paralysis was caused by one of the rarest ways to become paralyzed – a spinal arteriovenous malformation, aka AVM.

This lengthy name refers to a tangle of blood vessels that are in or near the spinal cord. These tangled arteries and veins can burst and cause bleeding in the spinal cord, and this hemorrhage is what causes paralysis. And one of the most difficult aspects of any AVM is detecting it, which for Taylor causes a lot of regret.

“In 2021, I found out I was pregnant and almost initially after I found out, I began to have symptoms of severe back pain, chest pain, weakness in my legs, and loss of bladder and bowel control,” she explains. “I went to the hospital and had a MRI done and it showed I had a AVM.” What is scary about any AVM is that they typically exist for awhile before being detected. “I should have listened to my body when I was a teenager. I have always had severe back pain and wish I knew sooner that it was a AVM.”

For Taylor, her AVM only became noticeable after becoming pregnant. “Basically, my pregnancy set off my AVM, and it created all my symptoms. Unfortunately, due to my AVM I was unable to continue with my pregnancy due to the risk of the baby and I both dying. I had two endovascular embolizations in the hospital. My surgeon at the time was able to get most of my AVM except one feeder,” she says.

After the hemorrhaging occurred, Taylor spent 2 months at Wakemed in Raleigh, NC recovering, re-learning to walk again, re-learning self-care, self-cathing and other everyday tasks. She was also able to continue her therapy there for 1 1/2 years as an outpatient. “I thoroughly enjoyed all the physical therapists that helped me. I was a full-time wheelchair user for 1 1/2 yrs and my physical therapist worked hard to to help me learn to use forearm crutches full-time.”

Part of Taylor’s AVM however could not be removed, which has caused ongoing problems. “Unfortunately since my then-surgeon left one feeder, my AVM grew bigger and found new pathways.” She searched for another surgeon to help her, choosing one at Duke University also in North Carolina. “He has two approaches to my AVM. Since my AVM is located on the front of my spine, it is very complex. The first approach would be to go through my back and take out my spine, flip is around and ligate my AVM. The second approach would be to go through my chest, brake my chest bones and ligate the AVM.”

Both of these approaches have serious risks, but both surgeries would also give Taylor the chance to be able to carry her own child, which is a dream she is not ready to give up on. “Due to my AVM, my surgeon advised me not get pregnant, so my AVM doesn’t cause worsening symptoms.”

Although Taylor lives with numbness from the breast down and has paralysis in her right leg, she has hope for the future. “I’m still recovering every day, and I’m also going to college for my paralegal degree. I hope to be physically and mentally ready, and have a degree, when I decide to go back to work.”

Follow her at @taylornxo


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