It was not long after Cynthia Kenth checked herself into hospital on New Year’s Eve 2014 when the paralysis fully set in. She quickly lost the ability walk, to speak; her muscles had become so unresponsive that she needed a ventilator just to be able to breathe.
Two-and-a-half years later, however, the former Wallenstein resident is not only talking and walking, she just participated in a two-day long bicycle journey over the weekend.
Kenth had to train her entire body to move after she fell ill, to regain her muscle memory. She taught herself to speak again, spending hours practicing one letter at a time until her muscles could form the words. Doctors cautioned, however, that she may never walk again.
“[They said] ‘you will have to live like you were in a wheelchair,” said Kenth, who now lives in Brampton. “And I’m like ‘no, I am not having it.’” Kenth learned to walk again too, saying it took “a lot of determination, a lot of stubbornness not to give up.” She credits her family and friends for helping her.
Not stopping there, she then set her sights on an even greater challenge: a 200 km bicycle ride over two days. The ride was an activity organized by her employer Alectra Utilities, which was participating in the annual Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer.
After months of preparation, Kenth joined her coworkers in the ride, going on a tandem bicycle with her colleague at the company, Corey Henderson. They rode from Exhibition Place, Toronto to Hamilton, and then around Lake Ontario to Niagara Falls.
“Corey basically took me under his wing,” she said, adding that he really pushed her to succeed and helped her train.
Individually, Kenth raised $2,785 towards cancer research, while her and the other 40 members of “Team Alectra” all together drew in $127,000. She also served as the team’s captain this year, and helped organize the company’s involvement with the ride for the last two years.
She developed her illness shortly after getting a flu-shot in 2014. Although she says never received a diagnosis for the paralysis, she believes it was Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), an autoimmune disease known to occur from influenza vaccinations in extremely rare circumstances.
Kenth stressed that she did not want to discourage people from getting vaccination, however.
“It was just unfortunately a fluke. And it affected my body in a different way, and unfortunately it paralyzed me.”
According to Health Canada and the Center for Disease Control in the U.S., the chances of developing GBS from a flu vaccination are about one-in-a-million, while the risks for getting the same illness from the flu itself are much higher.
“If my story can inspire somebody to move on … or to get over a hurdle that they’re facing in their life, that there is nothing too big that they couldn’t overcome.”
While Kenth was never much of a biker before, she says she is now hooked and plans to get her own bicycle to ride solo next year.