HCDE physical therapist Eccles shares personal story of struggles, strengths on American Ninja Warrior June 192
June 19, 2017 by HCDE Communications
Harris County Department of Education School-Based Therapy Services physical therapist Charlotte Eccles competes in the American Ninja Warrior trials on KPRC Channel 2 at 8 p.m. June 19. She shares this personal account of her journey with a life-changing struggle with a brain tumor condition called acoustic neuroma. We are extremely proud to have Charlotte as our HCDE employee.
Through her position as a physical therapist in School-Based Therapy Services, she works with children with special needs in Spring Branch Independent School District in their school environment. Physical therapy in the school setting may help children with challenges that include: getting on and off the bus, adapting physical education activities, maneuvering through the cafeteria line and supporting mobility and positioning options to help students be successful in the classroom and school environment. HCDE helps more than 7,000 children with special learning needs through our 160 physical and occupational therapy practitioners at the student’s home campus. We provide more than 50 percent of special education therapy services in our 25 Harris County school districts. Charlotte’s story of commitment to herself, her family and her career calling are chronicled below.
By Charlotte Eccles:
I knew from the day I was diagnosed with an acoustic neuroma that I would face struggle and hardship but I also made a promise to myself on that day that I would use my struggle to help others.
I was diagnosed two- and a-half years ago with my acoustic neuroma and had a middle fossa craniotomy four weeks later with Dr. Derald Brackmann at the House Clinic Acoustic Neuroma Center at St. Vincent Medical Center.
Although the surgery was a success because the tumor was removed and Dr. Brackmann was able to preserve my hearing, my balance nerve was cut during the operation. Immediately after surgery, I had significant challenges with balance and coordination. I also experienced temporary facial paralysis from compression to the facial nerve when my brain swelled in the ICU. I was a mom with two young daughters. I’m a pediatric physical therapist that fiercely advocates for children with special needs to believe in themselves despite their differences. My life changed in a heartbeat. I was no longer the therapist. I was now the patient with a long road to recovery ahead of me.
I underwent aggressive physical therapy. I stayed out in California for a month and then went back to Houston to continue intense physical therapy.
I remember like it was yesterday when every step with walking was unsteady and taxing, and resembled that of a toddler walking for the first time. I remember when simple tasks such as walking down the grocery store aisle made me dizzy, nauseated and off balance because of all the visual stimulation. And when I couldn’t spit toothpaste out or pronounce my words correctly because my face was paralyzed.
Six months after surgery, I transitioned from a conventional outpatient physical therapy setting into a ninja gym, with a physical therapist and trainer who happened to be an American Ninja Warrior competitor. I remember the first day I walked into the ninja gym. All the obstacles that I saw were so parallel with the obstacles in life I was facing. In that moment, I knew it was going to be the place that I took back everything my tumor had stolen physically from me.
It’s been a long journey for me. It has not only been a physical fight but a constant mental battle as well. But looking back, it has been an experience so valuable and one that I can honestly say I’m grateful for. A blessing in disguise for I have become so much stronger and have grown in unimaginable ways. But this is an outcome that could not even dream possible when I was first diagnosed or right after my surgery. It’s been a process.
Here is the message that I am driven to share with people. One would not know anything about the physical adversity I have faced over the last two years just by looking at me. One would not recognize the emotional pain I’ve experienced that accompanies the trauma of having a brain tumor. People cannot see the plate in my head and cannot feel the screws in my skull. They cannot see the huge scar that is now covered by my hair. They would not know that just two years ago I was relearning to walk and had absolutely no movement in the right side of my face. Today, they would not recognize that I continue to have challenges with balance that come from a severed right balance nerve as well as the complications that I still have with my facial nerve.
But the struggle has been part of my story and I continue to charge forward enthusiastically and persistently, to push my limits, dreaming big and believing I can reach beyond my grasp to achieve anything I set my mind to. I’m definitely not the same as I was before surgery. I have a new normal. I still have to work extremely hard at balance tasks. It still takes every ounce of effort. If there is anything on the floor, like a water bottle, in the gym, I will be the one to trip and fall over it. And my smile, it’s different and not as symmetric as it was before. But this I can say with confidence-it’s a stronger, deeper, more witnessing smile that supersedes my previous one.
The craziest part of the whole journey – I was picked to complete this season on American Ninja Warrior. I competed in the spring in San Antonio. My episode is scheduled to air on June 19.
I couldn’t be more excited to share my journey with the world. If someone told me when I was laying in the ICU that in two years I would be competing on American Ninja Warrior, I probably would have cried and I definitely would not have believed them. It would have sounded like a cruel joke.
The opportunity to compete on the show means more to me than words can express. This opportunity has given me a way to communicate to people challenged by adversity what they can do rather than what they can’t. I want people to see the abilities in their disabilities and to recognize what a never give up attitude can do for them, to truly believe in no limitations and that anything is possible. What feels impossible can indeed be possible. I feel like all of us who have faced this adversity have been given a unique opportunity. We get to use our adversity to be a light, to give others hope, and make a difference.