Michigan aerialist uses Myasthenia Gravis fight to create more awareness

My face stopped working and my body followed shortly after
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Posted at 2:55 PM, Sep 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-18 15:24:07-04

DETROIT (WXYZ) — During the day, Shadow Duffy is a construction worker and a mechanic.

"Being able to work on and run heavy equipment... I was able to fix the axle shaft on a bobcat," said Shadow.

But, at night, the 37-year-old transforms into an aerialist and circus performer.

When 7 Action News asked "Do you get scared when you perform?"

Shadow replied with a yes, "A dose of fear is always healthy. It gives you a healthy respect for your equipment,"

Since the age of 17, Shadow has been training in aerial acrobatics and has even won several awards for her art.

"I ended up taking a few competitions, actually 2nd in the world in Tokyo, best in Michigan titles for years and years until we found out I was sick," said Shadow.

The mighty artist was diagnosed with Myasthenia Gravis, a rare auto-immune condition that weakens muscles.

"My face stopped working and my body followed shortly after.

Soon after, Shadow underwent a thymectomy, a major surgical procedure involving opening her chest," said Shadow.

According to Mayo Clinic, the disease can strike anyone at any age, but it's more common in women younger than 40 and in men older than 60.

In fact, doctors gave gave her six months to live. "Because they had found a tumor in my chest when they did the surgery. I’ve learned to talk to and trust my body enough to do the things they told me I would never be able to do. So, yeah, I definitely looked mortality in the face quite a few times," said Shadow.

When asked if the news break her, Shadow replied "Yes, so many times!"

12 years later, Shadow is standing strong, a pinnacle of willpower for people facing similar challenges.

"I found ways to be healthy, to eat healthy, to mitigate the symptoms, and I practice a lot. This is my physical therapy," said Shadow.

Since there is no cure, Shadow still battles with tiredness and claw hands among other symptoms.

"It's such an invisible disability. You would never look at me and think I’m disabled. Another big thing I’ve learned is to advocate for others as well as for myself, for disability rights and disability recognition," Shadow added.

And, that’s why she's also calling for reforms within the aerial competition world.

"There is plenty of diversity in just regular categories, but they just lump all the disabled people together. So, I would like to see more diversity and more knowledge around the disabled community in general," said Shadow.

Meanwhile, Shadow knows the worst is yet to come.

"One day I woke up 12 years ago, and I couldn’t speak, and nobody knew why and everybody was saying I was crazy, and I know it's going to come back and it's going to take me out. So to live the dream I get to live every day is pretty amazing in my book," said Shadow.