Wednesday, January 21, 2009
7 Questions For...an adult with disabilities
Meet Kara Udziela, a 39-year-old mother of two who runs her own successful public relations agency, Vibrance PR. Kara has cerebral palsy. She talks just fine, she's super-smart and she's funny. I hope you find her as inspirational as I did. Kara's happy to answer any questions you may have, so fire away in the comments!
How old were you when you were diagnosed with cerebral palsy?
Around one years old. I failed to walk and dragged the right side of my body when crawling. I have spastic cerebral palsy, which affects my entire right side. I walk with a pronounced limp and have a very stiff right arm that is pretty much useless except as an anchor for grasping things the left one's holding.
What prognosis were your parents given?
They were not given much of a prognosis, just a series of doctors and hospitals trying to do various surgeries and therapies to improve my walking. One doctor mistakenly cut the wrong tendon in my right calf when I was five, leaving me with no calf muscles and a withered leg. Several operations were done to compensate for that.
Growing up, which therapy was most helpful to you, and why?
I had it all except for speech. What I think should be given to all disabled kids—especially when they hit 1st and 2nd grade and when they are teens—are self-esteem classes, psychological counseling if possible, and exposure and interviews with grown-ups who have similar problems to them. I did not have this, and spent a lot of my twenties not dating—I assumed because of my CP. When I was 28, my final single girlfriend was getting married and I broke down in front of her. She suggested a counselor she knew. I went and said, "I am disabled, but haven't let that define me. I have a good job, an M.A., a house, and friends, but I would like to be married, but A, I think I secretly think I am not worthy of love despite all my parents have tried to do, and B, if I can never be married, can you at least help me to be happy without that?" This counselor was the perfect fit for me. Within months I was reacting differently when people asked me why I was limping or tried to help me with things. Within a year I was dating, a lot—and believe me, even without cerebral palsy, I would not be classified as anything other than mildly pretty. So that had to come from my attitude.
Kara with her husband, Chris, and Lex, now 1
Actually, you're very pretty! So how'd you two meet?
We were both at an Oregon hippie/yuppie retreat at a hot springs. We had to walk a ways through trees and such to get to the springs and all my friends blew me off. I could never have done it alone. I turned to Chris—he was a friend of a friend—and said, "I don't know you, but I can't get there by myself. Will you walk with me and hold my hand?" He did, and he half-carried me over boulders and rocks and held my hand tight at rough patches and we talked the whole way there and back. Three months later, I fell down stairs and hurt myself. I thought he would leave. My mom said, "This is his test." He didn't leave. He picked me up and pushed my wheelchair and nursed me. And when it happened again six months later, he said that he loved my soul and my spirit and that he was going to marry me. We have been married for seven years.
What's been the biggest challenge for you?
I still to this day have problems with the stares people give you, and I hate watching myself on video, but that is only because in my head I look and act and walk and move the exact same way as you do.
Got any favorite websites?
TUT.com. Thoughts beome things, choose the good ones. Hokey spiritual The Secret kind of stuff, but the daily e-mails pump me up.
What's the most important advice you'd give to a parent of a special-needs child?
First, be vigilant of your child's health and care—trust no one completely. Always check doctors' credentials and history and get at least three opinions on surgeries or treatments suggested for your child even if it is a doctor you have known a long time. Second, do not discourage your kids AT ALL. Just because you don't think he can be a veterinarian based on his physicality doesn't mean he can't find a way. And, last, a positive attitude really is a priceless tool.
Kara with Liam, 4