Originally from rural Ireland, I grew up among cows, computers, and not much else. Now I’m a writer studying journalism and politics at New York University. When I’m not studying, I edit part of the student newspaper. My life today is thanks to the staff at Gillette Children's Specialty Healthcare, who gave me the confidence to move from Ireland to the U.S.
When I was born, my mom thought that my cries had an unusual pitch and worried that something was wrong. In the hospital, she asked the pediatrician about it, but her concern was dismissed. Over the months that followed, I was slow to develop. My parents weren’t overly perturbed, because the doctors had reassured them that the crying was due to colic, and I'd settled down. Plus, I was their third child. By this stage, they were experienced parents who accepted the fact that children develop at their own rate. It wasn’t until my routine 12-month developmental check that I was termed “developmentally delayed.” When I was 18 months old, I was officially diagnosed with cerebral palsy.
My mom became an expert on the subject. She read everything she could find. A physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist gave her a book by James R. Gage, M.D., of Gillette and she read it cover to cover with a medical dictionary by her side. After hearing Dr. Gage speak at a conference, my mom decided that if I should ever need surgery, we would go abroad and ask him for an opinion.
When I was 9, my parents and I began researching the surgical options at Gillette. My desire was pretty simple—I wanted to be able to stand straighter and walk faster. A year later, in 2004, I arrived in the U.S. to undergo surgery with Dr. Gage and Tom Novacheck, M.D. I was astounded by how caring everyone was, both inside the hospital and out of it. My dad tells the story of Dr. Gage coming into pre-op to talk to me and ask if I had any questions. My only question was about the color of the teddy bear that the nurses had promised me. I think that’s a pretty good indicator of the standard of care Gillette offers. I was about to undergo single-event multi-level surgery, and yet the teddy bear color was my most pressing concern.
After that initial surgery, I had two follow-up procedures with Dr. Novacheck in 2010 and 2012. During the second one, my brothers came from San Francisco to take care of me, allowing my parents to celebrate their wedding anniversary. They proved themselves totally capable of taking care of their “favorite youngest brother.” The event sticks out in my mind as not so much a surgery but as a bonding experience.
If I have one piece of advice for other kids or teens who have a “disability,” it’s this: don’t let it define you. I wasn’t a 14-year-old who had cerebral palsy. I was the 14-year-old who loved drums, who read every book he could lay his hands on, and who probably played his music too loud. As people, we’re not defined by our abilities or disabilities. It’s our choices, our aspirations, and our attitudes that define us. So, go out there and discover your passions—as I did.
Editor's Note: Are you looking for a way to connect with people who have cerebral palsy and their families? Join the Cerebral Palsy Resource Group on Facebook! This community forum is the perfect place to ask questions, share your experiences and receive support from the cerebral palsy community.