On April 19, 2018, a lecture by Cody Unser was held at the Millennium Center in Johnson City. She discussed living with paralysis and bringing awareness about transverse myelitis.

Guests arrived early to the event to partake in a light dinner. Along with every plate, guests received a packet with information about the speaker and the late Elizabeth Pryor.

This was the eighth Annual Elizabeth Craver Pryor Dinner and Lecture. Elizabeth Pryor was the Assistant Professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and the Associate Director of the OB/GYN residency program.

While everyone socialized with the members seated at their table, there was a short 20-minute film playing in the background.

The video was about teens with paralysis participating in the Cody Unser scuba diving program. Once the film ended, the head of the OB/GYN Department, Dr. William Block, Jr., introduced the speaker of the night.

Unser began her lecture by showing a documentary trailer about her type of paralysis. She made the film a decade ago during her undergraduate years. After the trailer, Unser explained in further detail how she became paralyzed.

“On Feb 5, 1999, my life forever changed,” said Unser.

She was playing basketball at her middle school when she began to have a horrible headache in combination with losing the ability to catch her breath. Her coaches laid her down and that’s when she lost all feeling in her legs. This was the day she became paralyzed from the waist down, and it all happened within the span of 20 minutes.

Her family waited a week before doctors knew what Unser’s diagnosis was. This lack of knowledge about transverse myelitis is the reason why Unser started the Cody Unser First Step Foundation.

Her foundation’s mission is to bring awareness about transverse myelitis and to provide people with transverse myelitis an opportunity to participate in an adaptive scuba program.

When Unser first became paralyzed, she struggled to accept her new lifestyle. It was the opposite of her active childhood. Right before she became paralyzed, everyone in her family became certified in scuba diving, and Unser had a dream to become certified in it too.

Despite the odds, Unser began her journey to overcome her disability and to become certified in scuba diving. When she started working towards her goal, she became happier. She realized that not everything that’s challenging is depressing.

ETSU Physician Dr. Martin E. Olsen came to this event to hear a patient’s story about living with paralysis.

 “I thought it was great to hear a patient’s viewpoint about interaction with the medical center,” said Dr. Olsen.

Dr. Block was pleased that Unser came to share her inspirational story.

“I thought it was wonderful. I think it’s always nice when we can add the individual perceptive of the patient’s concerns. I think it aids in our ability to relate to what our patients are going through,” said Dr. Block.

Unser has a passion for mentoring others and helping them realize that despite their challenges they can accomplish amazing things like scuba diving.

In addition to her foundation, she has also designed and taught a college course called “I Am Not My Body,” met with legislatures advocating for stem cell research and recently received her Master’s in Public Health.

“I live my life to the fullest,” said Unser, “and I can’t wait for tomorrow.”