Paralympics Bars Paralyzed Athlete, Says Problem All in Her Head

Doctors can't find a physical reason for woman's paralysis
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 9, 2015 10:49 AM CDT

(Newser) – A British athlete who has had no feeling from the chest down for four years has been barred from competing in the Paralympics—because doctors say she should not be paralyzed. The strange case involves 23-year-old Charlotte Wilkinson-Burnett, who has been in a wheelchair since slipping in the shower in 2011, reports the Telegraph. The problem is that doctors can find no physical cause of her paralysis. Instead, they chalk it up to something called "conversion disorder," in which patients suffer symptoms such as a paralysis for reasons that are psychological instead of physical. Essentially, they're told, it's all in their head.

Wilkinson-Burnett is a canoeist, and she won gold for Britain at the Canoe World Sprint this year and planned on competing in the Brazil Paralympics next year. But British Canoeing informed her just ahead of the Paracanoeing World Championships that she no longer qualifies as a para-athlete under international guidelines, reports the Independent. In fact, she may be stripped of her gold medal. Wilkinson-Burnett, who disputes her diagnosis, writes on her blog that she is "heartbroken." A doctor at King's College adds, “Anyone who understands the disorder will have mixed feelings about somebody being banned from competing.”

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