Local resident keeps head high through RSD struggle

SYLVAN TWP. — Although her life changed drastically following an injury nearly three years ago, 27-year-old Danielle Lee is beating the odds, staying positive and spreading hope to others who struggle with life's challenges.

"I want to encourage people to believe that if they put their mind to it and change their attitudes, they can do anything," Lee said. "Don't take anything for granted and don't give up hope for one day."

Two weeks before graduating from Western Michigan University for aviation, Lee was working in a department store when an accident with a forklift injured her left foot. The injury was believed to be a sprain or bruise on the bone, but it never healed. Stabbing pain in the area never ceased, but some of the doctors she visited were not concerned.

One physician, however, discovered Lee was suffering from reflex sympathetic dystrophy, a rare disorder of the nervous system that creates chronic pain. It is also referred to as complex regional pain syndrome. The pain in her foot is never ending and is spreading to other areas of her body.

"It feels like my foot is being stabbed constantly," Lee said. "I'm in pain all of the time. Now I have a little bit of pain in my arm."

Additionally, the syndrome causes Lee to suffer from seizures — more than 20 in one day at times — which led to Lee sustaining a traumatic brain injury from a fall during an attack. Since the brain injury, she has relearned how to perform tasks others do each day without a thought, including tying shoes, dressing herself and getting herself up from the ground.

She recently learned how to walk again and now is using a walker for stability.

"My doctors told me I would never walk again, but I said to them, 'Watch me,' and now I'm walking," Lee added. "I want to be more independent and I hope to defy the doctors now they've said I'd never be able to live on my own again. It's been hard, but I can accomplish more than I think I can."

Other goals she has are to walk across the Mackinac Bridge on Labor Day and participate in a 5K.

Lee continues to beat the odds of the disorder with the help of physical therapy, speech therapy and other types of assistance. She credits a large part of her strength to those closest to her, some of whom have saved her life during her seizures.

"I know I'll never be the same, but I don't think I'd change anything that has happened," Lee said. "This has showed me who my real friends are and helped me realize I have a great support system. My family members are my rocks."

Apart from the special people in her life, her attitude makes all the difference.

"It's been the hardest year of my life," Lee said. "People ask me how I can smile with everything that has happened, but I'm going to keep smiling because RSD is not going to run my life."

She encourages other people facing difficult situations in life to keep their head up and smile regardless of the struggle.

"Don't give up the simple things and don't take anything for granted," Lee added. "You can do it. Life is a treasure."