|The Power of Compassion
I was born three months premature and weighing less than a pound, I had almost
no chance of surviving my first night. I had as much of a chance at living a normal
life, after being diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy, a chronic condition affecting body
movements and muscle coordination, six months after I was born in 1981.
Anyone who has a disability, no matter big or small, knows they have a lifetime
of challenges ahead. The emotional hurdles may be just as difficult, if not harder
to overcome, than the physical obstacles faced on a daily basis.
Kids can be unspeakably cruel to children with disabilities because they may
look or act differently. This happened to me very often as a young child in elementary
school. I knew I was different and constantly wondered why, always thinking "Why
me"? Most of all, I badly wanted to be just like the other kids in my class, who
could run, jump and do all sorts of physical activities that I always had to sit
out on, which made me feel even worse.
The one place where I didn't feel out of place or self-conscious was when I went
to physical therapy nearly every day. I felt I could let myself open up completely
to my therapists, let them see my vulnerabilities because they knew what I was going
through and how hard it was to do even the most normal of activities. Their enthusiasm
and encouragement every time I accomplished even a tiny little thing like taking
a step unaided, or knocking over the therapist's full coffee mug by kicking a ball
on the parallel bars after working on them for what seemed like an eternity, made
me feel like I was on top of the world. I felt I could accomplish whatever I set
out to do because my therapists believed in me, they cared.
As I watched the video on Aleh's children, memories of myself at that age, struggling
to reach my goal of taking a step or picking myself up off the floor, flooded my
brain and even now after all these years, I was immediately reduced to tears.
I was so happy to see the kids get the quality of care they deserve and more
importantly that they are being treated as human beings, given a chance to reach
their full potential amidst caring and dedicated people with whom they can share
their successes and failures.
I have had multiple orthopedic surgeries over the years to improve my gait. While
each one has been very successful and has improved my quality of life tenfold, it
came with a price. Since muscular tension and/or weakness along with limited range
of motion are common conditions associated with Cerebral Palsy, keeping my muscles
strong by working out several times a week at the gym or in physical therapy is
routine for me. However, the long recovery times following surgery prohibited me
from working out, resulting in weakness of muscles that had been strong before surgery.
I felt like I was going through a vicious cycle, having to build up my strength
from square one time and time again.
One of my most rewarding moments came in 2002, while working with my physical
therapist on building strength in my hip muscles so I could get up off the floor
on my own when I would fall. After working at it for a full week, I finally accomplished
my goal, rising to my feet, shouting YES!!! All the therapists in the room, who
had witnessed my struggle over the past week started clapping and cheering. I was
so happy that I finally accomplished what in the beginning seemed near impossible.
The constant encouragement and belief that Yolande Rodier, my physical therapist,
had in me when I had none, when I was ready to give up because I was exhausted,
my thigh and arm muscles shaking from exertion, made it all possible.
Yolande's tireless efforts to help me reach my full potential before and after
undergoing two orthopedic procedures in 2003 are memories that will stay with me
forever. Even now that she's retired she still cares about my progress, asking me
how I am and giving me a big hug whenever she sees me on campus at the University
of Miami, where she is taking courses and where I attend school.
Today, I am fully self-sufficient, thanks to years of hard work and determination
on my part and the never ending support of my parents and therapists.
An organization like Aleh serves an invaluable purpose to the physically and
mentally challenged. The people who work there, who dedicate their lives to these
children are the light at the end of a very long, dark tunnel for many of these
children. The people of Aleh deserve the highest honor and utmost respect of anyone
that is fortunate enough to know about the wonderful, life changing work they do.