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Rare foam roller injury puts Beaverton mother in the hospital with pain and paralysis

A young Beaverton mother was brought to OHSU paralyzed, but thanks to emergency spinal surgery she was home and walking within a week.

BEAVERTON, Ore. — A part of a local woman’s daily routine sent her to the hospital, paralyzed. But she was miraculously back home and walking just six days later.

Gaby Zielinski is soaking up all the joys of motherhood, while recovering from an unimaginable health scare.

“I can’t lift anything over 10 pounds for six weeks. And even though I have a 4-and-a-half-month-old — she’s 17 pounds,” she giggled. “So, I can’t pick her up. I can sit with her.”

The new mom, however, is grateful she can do that, because just about a month ago she was on the floor unable to move.

“It was so fast. It happened so quickly. I lost the ability to move my hands and I could lift my arms, barely, and I couldn’t move my legs,” Gaby said.

The sudden paralysis happened while she was doing something she’s done a hundred times before: using a foam roller.

She was stretching and using the foam roller on her neck when she felt a pain unlike anything she’s felt before.

“I felt shooting pains down into my shoulder up my neck and down around the tops of my arms,” she recalled. “It felt like I was getting, just stabbed with something extremely hard.”

Her husband Chase, who had just returned home from work not long before, called 911.

“Honestly, it was terrifying,” Chase said. “I’ve never seen you in that much pain.”  

“All the panicky thoughts enter your head,” Gaby said. “The biggest thing on my brain was, 'Don’t move, because if you move it’s going to hurt more.'”

Not sure what was causing the pain and paralysis, EMTs brought her to Oregon Health & Science University — but when she arrived, doctors were still a bit baffled.

“This is a highly exceptional, unique, almost freakishly rare case,” said OHSU Associate Professor of Neurosurgery Dr. Josiah Orina.  

The team at OHSU spotted the source through magnetic resonance imaging and found that a blood vessel had burst. It formed a clot the size of an earthworm impinging on seven sections of her spine.

It’s an injury doctors have seen before, but never from using a foam roller.

“Typically, it's the result of either a motor vehicle collision or a high-impact injury to the spine,” Dr. Orina said.

Once they pinpointed the problem, Dr. Orina and his team knew they had to act quickly to get her into the operating room for emergency spinal surgery to reverse her paralysis.

“They say that spinal cord is time, so if the spinal cord is being compressed, you have a narrow window to decompress it before patients can start to experience permanent paralysis,” Dr Orina said.

Gaby says it all happened so fast that much of her time from the ambulance to the operating room was a blur. Before she knew it, she was awake.

“As soon as I woke up, I didn’t have any tingling. I didn’t have any numbing sensation. I could move my legs right away and I could move my hands,” she said.  

Soon, she was walking again, and in six days she was ready to go back home — but not before she and her mom said thank you to the doctors with a sweet surprise.

“Gaby and her mother brought her care team several jars of homemade jam, homemade strawberry jam, boysenberry jam, just to say another thank you,” Dr. Orina said.

“Yes, my mom is wonderful,” Gaby laughed.  “They loved it.”

Gaby is still recovering and waiting for the OK to pick up more than 10 pounds, aka her sweet baby Sophie.

She’s grateful, saying things lined up just right for this happy ending. 

“It sounds cheesy to say, but I’m really blessed to have a bunch of people around me, and I love them so much and I felt so supported,” Gaby said. “I’m really grateful that I had such a good team of people taking care of me.”

In case you’re wondering: No, this doesn’t mean you should stop using your foam roller. Dr. Orina said they’re perfectly safe to use and that Gaby’s injury was just a one-off occurrence.


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