Level of Injury: Between T-4 and T-6
Cause of Paralysis: Transverse Myelitis
Age at Onset: 11

Cody Unser is a 19-year old sophomore at the University of Redlands, in Redlands, California. She worries about all the things young women her age do: boyfriends, tests, what she wears, and how her body looks. A sunny, beautiful blond, her eyes sparkle, and her personality jumps out of her chair, even though she can’t.

“There’s a whole other side of being a woman in a wheelchair,” explains Cody. “You’re a sensual being. You want to feel sexy. You want to feel good and look good, even though you’re battling something that’s obvious and different.” All of which motivated her to try the RT-300S, the first device she has ever used.

“I heard about it from Dr. John McDonald, who was then working with Christopher Reeve. He said ‘I’m doing this RT300 thing.’ And you see, I’m all about new things. I was all game for it.”

Cody’s routine on the RT300 is a one-hour session, three days a week. She ends the session sweating and flushed, and pushes herself a bit more each time – a few extra minutes, increased resistance, a harder workout. She has moved the compact, easily portable RT300 from her mother’s house to her dorm, where she’s about to have it hooked up to the Internet so her progress can be monitored.

“The whole idea of seeing my legs contract is breathtaking,” she confides. “The last time I saw that, I didn’t even think to remember how it felt. I’ve gained muscle back. And my boyfriend has noticed the change in my butt and legs,” she grins.

The RT300 also helps Cody with her scuba diving. Atrophied muscle causes legs to float up in the water, making it hard for the diver to swim straight. “I used to have to add weights to my legs to stay straight. But the RT300 has helped build muscle, which sends me straight into the ocean blue!”

At 6th grade basketball practice in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Cody began to feel excessively tired, couldn’t catch her breath, developed a pounding headache, and her legs felt heavy, numb and tingly. The emergency room evaluated her and sent her home. The next morning, Cody was unable to walk and returned to the hospital paralyzed below her chest. The mysterious symptoms were finally diagnosed as Transverse Myelitis, a rare but often paralyzing (and sometimes fatal) spinal cord inflammation. Had doctors recognized the condition sooner, Cody could have been treated with steroids, greatly diminishing the effects of the disease.

A long-time public speaker and activist for the 100 million people suffering from paralysis, Cody has created her own major at the University of Redlands: biopolitics. Passionate about advancing stem cell research and a good quality of life for people with spinal cord injuries, she is using college to hone already-sharp skills for pushing issues forward with politicians, decision-makers and government health agencies.

“It’s hard to appreciate certain things in life, certain issues, until you’re directed to. If George Bush were in a car accident, his whole mentality would change. People with paralysis are a sub-society. I want to bring their issues to the mainstream.

“What the RT300 does is let people continue rehab after they leave rehab. Being active means sports, sure. But it also means going shopping with your friends. Raising your metabolism. Keeping your heart healthy, having fewer muscle spasms.”

Cody pauses. “And when stem cell research finds a cure, I want my body to be ready for it.”

Exceptional achievements:

  • Created the Cody Unser First Step Foundation, generating awareness of Transverse Myelitis and promoting communication among hospitals and researchers nationwide. 1999
  • Announced the formation of a TM research consortium spearheaded by Johns Hopkins University Hospital, with the University of New Mexico as the first of many research partners. 2001
  • Emerging Leader Award for National Spinal Cord Injury Association for 2006