“I really encourage everyone, no matter what kind of limitation is in their life, to push themselves and keep going.”

YOUNGSVILLE, La. (KLFY)- An Opelousas man with a rare genetic disease is defying the odds.

Despite having a progressive disease with no cure, Matt LaFleur is finding ways to get up and get active, inspiring his community.

“Being in here has really focused me on being comfortable in my own body and not as matt in the wheelchair,” said LaFleur.
Matt has a Friedreich’s Ataxia. It’s a genetic disease, which causes progressive nervous system damage – making it difficult to walk, a loss of sensation in the arms and legs and impaired speech.

“It’s actually pretty hard to find a physical therapist willing to see an FA patient because FA is so rare and so unfamiliar that people don’t know what to do because they don’t know what to expect,” LaFleur said.

Physical therapists Kevin and Lizzie Landreneau work with Matt on getting in and out of the chair – a process which took about nine months as Matt built up his strength despite his progressive disease.

“Normally a lot of balance and coordination issues so we are kind of familiar with the deficits, we just weren’t really familiar with the disease process itself until Matt contacted us,” Landreneau said.

LaFleur said he’s giving it his all.

“He (Kevin Landreneau) wasn’t sure of how hard he could push me. I hope I let him know that he could push me however hard he wants to. I won’t back down,” LaFleur said.

Kevin also performs dry needling on Matt to help stimulate his muscles as he builds them.

“We try to forget about the wheelchair, forget about any limitations and just do it you can, operate in the bubble that you have,” Kevin Landreneau said. “With ataxia the sensory fibers, the pain receptors are not really alert. the first time i did this he didn’t feel a thing. Now we’re jumping.”

Matt undergoes massage therapy, occupational therapy and sees a chiropracter in addition to physical therapy.
He says he’s not letting FA take control of his life.

“It’s been a year of change for me. It’s been a year really focusing on pushing my body to the extent, to the limit. i’m super thankful for that,” he said. “I really encourage everyone, no matter what kind of limitation is in their life, to push themselves and keep going.”

Matt is riding in the Rideataxia Race in Dallas on Saturday, March 28.
It’s a goal he’s been working toward for years.
“Mindset is everything and Matt’s got it,” Kevin Landreneau said.