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Advancements in Research Help Patients With SMA Push New Boundaries

Ty Durant & his mother, Angie. Sixteen-year-old Ty lives with Type 3 SMA and is determined to defy expectations.

People with SMA once faced a bleak future. Today they’re not only maintaining ability but achieving more than ever before.

Few people, including his doctor, could’ve predicted what Ty Durant would be capable of today. At age four, Ty was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), a rare neuromuscular disease. “It was devastating,” his mother, Angie, recalls of his diagnosis. “I was told that over time he’d lose his ability to walk, stand, or live independently, but to take comfort in knowing he should live ‘a normal life expectancy.’” 


But today, the sixteen-year-old from Olds, Alberta is not just surviving — he’s thriving. Defying expectations, Ty does rigorous daily weightlifting workouts at the gym and is passionate about physical fitness. Ty is also a strong swimmer and can hold his own in any singles badminton match. 

SMA is a disease that affects infants, children, and adults, and leads to progressive motor function loss and muscle atrophy. Only five years ago it caused Ty’s life to look very different, as he faced a diminishing quality of life and bleak future. 

New therapeutic approaches lead to a new outlook on life

Ty has Type 3 SMA and he remembers how the progression of the disease accelerated at around the age of 11. “The muscles in my lower extremities were getting quite weak and I was not able to walk as fast and as far as I could before,” he says. “I was at my lowest point and feeling very unmotivated.” He eventually needed to use a forearm crutch when walking and a manual wheelchair for moving longer distances.

It was painful for Angie to watch, but she was determined to give her son the best life possible. She learned through Ty’s neurologist about advancements in research that were enabling SMA patients to achieve more developmental milestones, and to preserve and potentially regain function. 

Now I feel a lot better physically and mentally, and am extremely motivated.

– Ty Durant

For the Durant family, these new therapeutic approaches would be life-changing, and have made it possible for Ty to build up his physical strength. “I’m close to being able to do 10 pounds on the leg extension machine, when a couple of months ago, I could barely lift it at all,” he says.

As Ty’s strength and stamina have improved, so has his outlook on life. “It’s been a big break for me because my mindset wasn’t in a good place before. Now I feel a lot better physically and mentally, and am extremely motivated. I devote most of my time to school and the gym, and push myself more and more,” says Ty.

Angie too has noticed significant changes in her son, especially with his mood and energy. “He’s also becoming such a wonderful advocate for himself and speaking his truth about his experiences,” she says. 

Setting and achieving ambitious goals

Ty is like most teenagers, enjoying a rich social life with his peers and helping out with the household chores. “He cleans his own bedroom and bathroom, vacuums, unloads the dishwasher, dusts, and is a great cook and baker,” says Angie. Adds Ty: “My friends think I must have it pretty easy around the house, and they’re always shocked when they learn about how much I do. It really puts into perspective that I, and others living with SMA, can exceed the limitations that people may place on us.”

Resilience epitomizes the SMA community’s spirit, and Ty is no exception as he continues to set goals for himself and chart out his future. He loves mathematics and plans to pursue an engineering career. He also wants to learn to drive and one day have a partner and children. “I’m a big family guy,” he says.  

Although Ty still relies on support for mobility, his ambition to push past barriers continues: He is determined to walk across the stage independently by the time of his high-school graduation, and Angie has no doubt her son will succeed. “I believe he’s going to make that happen,” she says. 

Learn more about the SMA community at smashingbarriers.ca.


 This article was sponsored by Biogen Canada.

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