Back in 2012, when Claudia Martinez was a student in college and was working towards her dream of becoming a doctor, she heard devastating news. A neurosurgeon prompted Claudia to get brain surgery as soon as possible or else face a huge risk of becoming paralyzed from the neck down. Before lying down on the surgery table, Claudia had been experiencing severe headaches, loss of feeling in her limbs, as well as other debilitating symptoms. Apparently, they were caused by a little-known condition called Chiari Malformation which is a structural problem in the base of the human skull and in the cerebrum – the part of the brain that is responsible for controlling balance. However, that didn’t stop Claudia from chasing her dreams as she decided that in this world, it’s the mind that controls the matter, not the other way around.

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When Claudia was a 21-year-old undergraduate student at the University of Houston, she was diagnosed with Chiari Malformation, a debilitating condition which prompts the brain tissue to extend into the spinal cord, a scenario which can result in paralysis. “When I got my diagnosis, I was sent to a neurosurgeon. He told me that I needed brain surgery as soon as possible. If not, I was going to be paralyzed from the neck down. And so within a week, I was undergoing my first brain surgery,” Claudia recalled to the media. Despite it all, the young woman graduated from college with a 4.0 GPA and went on to attend UTHealth McGovern Medical School. However, she still needed operations including five major brain surgeries.

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As of today, she has had all six brain surgeries including one in 2017 where she suffered a stroke and woke up paralyzed from the neck down. The surgery was an experimental one but doctors said that it was her only hope. Claudia later had to re-learn how to walk, move her limbs, eat and dress for herself or as she puts it, “Every single thing we take for granted in everyday life.” However, the condition left her stomach partially paralyzed and she was on a feeding tube for three years.

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In December of 2018, she posted a photo on her Instagram account with the caption, “Life is tough darling, but so are you. As someone who was previously on a pure liquid diet, then purely tube fed and now as someone who is being kept alive by a GJ feeding tube and IV fluids, it’s difficult to not feel frustrated from time to time. Next week, I’ll be having surgery on my stomach and intestines. It’ll be performed by two surgeons. We are hoping with this surgery, I’ll be able to eat and won’t have to survive off a feeding tube and IV fluids ”

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Fast forward to March, Claudia was not only able to run (“From not being able to walk to this, I am truly blessed,” she shared on her Instagram) but also learned that her feeding tube feeds are going to be removed after three years. “The surgery was a great success and I have been able to maintain and gain weight eating orally since then while weaning off the feeding tube. I am hoping to get my feeding tube removed in the next couple of months, but it has to stay in for now.”

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Her gradual recovery through months of physical rehab helped crystalize her vision for the future, though. “I thank God every day for what I’ve gone through, bc it is how I’ve found my calling,” she writes. “I’ve officially decided to pursue a residency in PM&R (Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation).”

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All of the struggles that Claudia went through have only made her more aware of her dreams and vision than ever: “I thank God every day for what I’ve gone through, [because] it is how I’ve found my calling. I’ve officially decided to pursue a residency in PM&R (Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation).” Today, Claudia is on her way to graduating from UTHealth McGovern Medical School in Houston with only a year away. In the meantime, she organizes the annual “Conquer Chiari” charitable walk in Houston which helps to raise money for research into the condition. “This part of my life is called happiness. I officially finished my 3rd year and have started my 4th year! One more year left of medical school and in May 2020, I will get to be called Dr. Claudia I. Martinez,” she shared with her followers. We are all rooting for Claudia and can’t wait for her to get that degree!