Interview by Elizabeth Rockett | Photos by Shena Lee
Dorian Taylor's journey began with a misdiagnosis that eventually led to paralysis. Moving from doctor to doctor, state to state, Dorian advocated for themself and continued to push back against the mistreatment they experienced from health authorities. They were eventually diagnosed with lupus, a chronic, autoimmune disease, and to this day doctors continue to diagnose Dorian with other health conditions. Despite the health battle Dorian fights as a T8 incomplete paraplegic, they are an accomplished athlete who represents the United States on the Para-Canoe team. Dorian teaches us the power of continuing to find ways to challenge ourselves and grow no matter the circumstance.
In the short Youtube film called “Paralyzed But Still Moving” you talk about your initial attempts at a diagnoses and how the health care system failed. Can you tell us more about your personal story with the health care system?
After years of being misdiagnosed, I started getting really sick and having seizures everyday. I was losing balance rapidly and because of my history of mental illness, when I went to the neurologist appointment they ignored my past neurological diagnosis and I was refused to be seen. Because I was refused, I refused to leave the appointment. I ended up being put into a choke hold and tasered by security.
While I lived in Portland, every single doctor I saw only saw the hospital's version of the incident and I became blacklisted from the healthcare system to the point that when I finally got off probation and was allowed to leave, I had to fly to New York where I got a simple blood test and found out I had lupus. Lupus could have been what was causing all the symptoms I was having back then.
When I got back to Portland from New York, the rheumatologist couldn’t refer me to a neurologist due to being blacklisted. Instead of being referred to a neurologist, my primary care doctor would refer me to a psychiatrist. The last psychiatrist I had tried to refer me to a neurologist and basically told me I need to leave town and they had never seen anything like this before in terms of someone being blacklisted from the system.
Long story short, I moved to Seattle because my condition that we now know as complete paralysis, continued to get worse. There was nothing my rheumatologist could do in Portland without my neurological problems being officially diagnosed. By the time I moved to Seattle, I had already been using a wheelchair for three years and had been officially diagnosed with Lupus after I was the sickest I’ve ever been from it. Unfortunately these gaps in medical care made it take another year for a full diagnosis, so I lived with undiagnosed paralysis a total of four years. I am still getting health issues diagnosed from all those years ago.
You were on the Para-Canoe U.S. Team. Tell us about your experience not only qualifying for the team but also ultimately competing in Germany.
I got involved in sprint kayaking almost by accident. I was playing Hockey, getting serious about it, and wanting to be involved in a summer sport.
The U.S. team was looking for people who were athletic and into kayaking. I had been participating in Sled Hockey, which is a similar balance. I had a few teammates end up talking me into going to this Para-canoe trial event. I ended up trying it and everyone was shocked I didn’t tip out of the boat. I had only been doing the sport for a year when I met this coach and I decided to make a push to try for trials. I didn’t actually expect to make the team because I had only been training in the sport for a year and it’s a really difficult sport.
I went to the qualifying race in Georgia and made a team slot for the United States; the last slot available for my disability class.
I then made the U.S. World Championship team and qualified to compete for the U.S. in Germany. It was the first time this sport was going to be included in the Para Olympics, so it was a chance to qualify to compete in Rio. To just see that level of competition was amazing and to compete on an international level, meet athletes from all over the world and share a common love was the most beautiful thing I’ve actually done.
It was almost five years after the tasing incident, and to think that I was not only able to come this far with so little care but to be strong enough to compete on an international level and make the U.S. team was amazing.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I think it is important to include all kinds of athletes in media stories. I want to thank you for seeing me as an athlete and giving me an opportunity to share my story.