I am a quadriplegic who has been injured for over 33 years; I sustained a spinal cord injury at age 16 in a diving accident. Prior to that, I was extremely athletic, a lifeguard, and a swimmer. After my injury, I went through an extended period of rehabilitation two hours away from my home in Upstate New York. I returned to my rural hometown of Accord, NY, and graduated high school at the top of my class, college magna cum laude and then law school. I was a practicing attorney for 25 years with the Federal government until my retirement in 2016. I live in Arlington, VA, and despite thinking I would be single forever, have been married for over 11 years. I have had many ups and downs in life related to my health, but I have learned how to overcome challenges and develop a mindset to be “Happy on Wheels.” In late 2009, I had surgery on 2 chronic wounds, and because of complications I became seriously ill and almost died. I left the hospital with a trach and never thought I’d be able to return to work, but I did and worked for nearly seven more years. The people around me – husband, family, friends, work colleagues and health care assistants – were the key motivating factors in my recovery. As if that wasn’t enough, in July of 2010, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a right mastectomy. That challenge has made me passionate about speaking out about breast cancer, specifically, accessible mammography for women with disabilities. I’m now close to 50 and through my personal and professional experience, I want to share my experiences overcoming obstacles and challenges to inspire others, regardless of age, to live happier lives.
I am a person with Friedreich’s Ataxia (FA) which is a genetic, neurological disorder that is progressive. FA is a condition that is autosomal recessive in nature; meaning that one needs to inherit the defective gene from both of one’s parents to have the condition and show symptoms; if a person only inherits the defective gene from one parent, they will show no symptoms but be a carrier and may pass that gene on to their offspring. My FA, which can be unique to anyone who has it, mainly affects my walking balance, my overall muscle coordination, and my hearing. It can begin to have negative impacts on one’s life usually between ages two and 16, it can however be later or earlier as well. I began to notice symptoms of FA in High-School but didn’t get an official diagnosis until I was a senior in college. I received my degree in music education from James Madison University (JMU) in 1992 and played the saxophone in the marching band for four years. In my case, FA progressed slowly and after graduating from JMU, I taught for two years and then went back to school at George Mason University and received my Master’s degree in special education in 2001. After receiving my Masters, I began to lose my hearing slowly, but significantly; enough so that in 2010 I got a Cochlear Implant at Johns Hopkins University. I was employed for eleven years as a Peer Mentor at a Center for Independent Living (CIL) in Northern Virginia. During this time, I had to give up driving and my hearing has continued to decline. My FA, particularly my hearing issues, caused me to leave my position and I am currently doing Happy on Wheels with my wife whom I married in 2005.