“She’ll never be a rocket scientist.”
These were six words my parents never expected they would hear from a doctor. Who would? Having a child is supposed to be a happy thing.With these six words came anxiety, fear and questions about my future. They didn’t know it at the time, but I was born with spastic diplegia, a form of cerebral palsy (CP) that affects the lower half of my body. I spent the next few months in the neonatal intensive care unit before my parents were able to take me home.
As the next few years progressed, my parents began to notice that I wasn’t meeting developmental milestones. It was recommended that I see a medical professional at Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare. Gillette is where I received my official diagnosis of cerebral palsy.
Over the next several years, I received additional medical care and therapy from Dr. Stephen England, who performed all six of my surgeries. My care included a range of procedures. A muscle lengthening, Botox injections, multiple osteotomies, and gait lab assessments.
Although it wasn't always easy, I persevered. Despite the challenges I faced, my parents and the staff at Gillette never let me say the words “I can’t.”
My disability became a matter of perception, and they knew from that moment on, if I could make even the slightest difference in this world, then that’s exactly what I’d do. That mantra became the mentality I carried with me throughout my childhood, and it remains so today.
Since a young age, it’s been my goal not only to educate, but to advocate for those with disabilities. I want to prove that although you may have to do things a little differently, you can still achieve your dreams and live a happy, successful life.
In elementary school, I started writing letters to my teachers and classmates. I explained my disability, how it affected me individually and what my classmates could do to help me. I proceeded to speak in classrooms and eventually, mentored those who needed some extra help to be successful.
By the time I reached high school, I knew I wanted to give back to my community by serving those who have disabilities as part of my career. I went on to attend Minnesota State University - Mankato, where I would spend the next six years pursuing my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in social work.
What I loved most about Gillette growing up was that the people there didn’t make me feel like just another patient. I was treated like a person. Like someone who had potential and a bright life ahead of her. I wanted to make other people feel the same way.
I am now able to fulfill my dream of person-centered practices through my work as a social worker, case manager, and supervisor at Pinnacle Services, an organization dedicated to helping those with special needs lead more independent lives.
It is my role to ensure that my clients’ dreams are heard and fulfilled. My hope is that, through my work, I am able to encourage those in the same position I was once in, to dream as I have dreamed. While at the same time, provide a glimmer of hope for the families that are struggling to envision their child’s future.
While I might not be a rocket scientist, I do know I am doing exactly what I was meant to do, and that I’m using my experiences to give others a voice to find their purpose.
I want to assure all Gillette parents—and parents of all children who have complex conditions—that your child will make a difference in this world, great or small. Yes, their disability might be a part of their life, but it doesn’t need to be their whole story. The possibilities are endless!
Jenna today, outside of her office at Pinnacle Services.