Last Thursday, I had the opportunity to share the mission of “Holdin’ Out for a Hero” with a very special group of people. Rose Mary Lumm, president of the Spina Bifida Association of Central Florida, invited me to join her in teaching the students in UCF’s Doctorate of Physical Therapy program what it is like to live with spina bifida.
The class I visited had a total of about 32 students, and Mami and I both got the opportunity to share our stories. I let her tell the class about the first part of my life, up until five years old, which I don’t recall. I continued my life story after age five, which I remember quite vividly.
As I explained in detail many of the symptoms and secondary conditions I deal with, the students’ task was to figure out what level of spina bifida I have. (I am L5.) The class had been divided into two groups, with one evaluating Rose Mary’s young son, Andrew, and the other group evaluating me. At the end, we switched. The students performed tests to determine what muscles I use, and how physically strong I am, and what compensatory strategies I use.
As I spoke to them and even joked with them, all seemed impressed with how I express myself, and to me it was very important for them to realize that all people with spina bifida have different abilities. Nobody can do everything, but everyone has different tasks they are able to perform, and special talents.
The majority of the students “diagnosed” my level of myelomeningocele correctly, which was very impressive. As I said goodbye and left the classroom that morning, I thanked the entire class wholeheartedly for realizing that I am a person first, a young woman, and a patient second.
As a token of their appreciation, the students presented me with a UCF tote bag containing a T-Shirt with “D.P.T.” on it.
I have great hope for the futures of each of the P.T. students I met that day. I hope that they will be able to use that newly acquired knowledge of people with spina bifida, and apply it to when they encounter a client who not only needs physical treatment, but also deserves to be understood.