Tennessee Kindred Stories of Disability

A collection of stories from individuals with disabilities, families, friends, and disability service providers in Tennessee

Mario (30), Physical disabilities, Shelby County

"Over time, I started to come out of my depression mode and I started to pursue what I wanted in life."

  • A Student interview of self-advocate's Perspective
  • Posted on 8/21/2013

Mario is a thirty-year-old male from Memphis, Tennessee, and the youngest of three. His older brother is a PE teacher at a local middle school and his sister is a nurse. According to Mario, his mother is a strong and beautiful woman who holds the family together. He shares that his family is close knit, “We rely on each and we’re each other’s support system.”

Football has always been one of Mario’s passions and he joined the team upon entering high school. At the age of fifteen, he made a life-changing tackle, which caused him to break his neck and pinch the C5 nerve on his cervical vertebrae. This left him paralyzed from the chest down, a quadriplegic. At first, Mario could not breath on his own; he needed assistance from a ventilator. After 2-3 weeks, he was weaned off the ventilator and began to breathe and eat on his own. Mario spent 4-5 months at Baylor University where he received spinal cord surgery, and underwent various tests and rehabilitation exercises. After his stay at Baylor, Mario regained the ability to use his arms.

Reflecting back on this period of his life, Mario comments, “I just look at it as: it’s been a real challenge for me. When it first happened, of course I was more in shock. I was just lost. I guess I had a lot of visitors come in who encouraged me to keep my spirits up and eventually over time, I started to come out of my depression mode and I started to pursue what I wanted in life.” Mario says that his older brother played a huge role in keeping his spirits high.

A typical day in the life of Mario starts at 7am. His sister, one of his primary caregivers, comes in to help with his basic morning needs. Mario is assisted in going to the bathroom, taking a shower, getting dressed and then transferred into his wheelchair. He says, “Once I’m in the chair, I’m mainly independent.” Mario does rehabilitation exercises every morning for his arms, fingers and legs. Today, Mario can almost close his left hand and grab things. Being left-handed, this is significant step for him. He says, “The more I put work into it, the more results I get.”

Each day Mario spends a couple hours in his office checking emails, making phone calls and handling tasks related to his real estate business. He also goes to the gym to work out for a few hours, before grabbing lunch. At around 3pm, Mario goes over to his brother’s middle school where he volunteers with coaching football and track & field. Despite football being the source of his injury, Mario does not resent the sport and instead uses it as a way to share his story, and inspire youth. This is one of the reasons he decided to convey his life’s journey through print, and in 2012, with the collaboration of writer Perry Burrows, Mario published his life story, Brothers: The Mario Reed Story. It is now available nationwide. On the topic his book, Mario remarks:

I hope it inspires and encourages. It might lift people that need words of encouragement.

Hopefully they can look at my family and my life and see that I will never quit. And no

matter what the challenges in front of me, you just have to keep pushing.

His inspirational book is a great transition into his next life goal of becoming a motivational speaker. Mario hopes to use his story to reach the youth of Memphis, Tennessee (and the world!). Mario describes himself as a thinker, more than a reactor. He shares, “One of my most powerful strengths is that I’m just motivated, and I love being independent. And I enjoy being a leader to the youth by inspiring them and encouraging them and motivating them in sports and in their life.”

Mario is also passionate about the inclusion of individuals with disabilities in society. If Mario encounters a problem in his community regarding accessibility he takes it directly to the owner and suggests making modifications for wheelchairs. If they don’t make the revisions in a timely manner (e.g. 6 months), Mario has been known to write letters to Washington, D.C. in order to get the ball rolling. He has written such letters three times thus far.

Despite all of Mario’s successes, he still has needs that would benefit from government support. The cost of modifying a vehicle to fit the unique needs of a quadriplegic is costly. While the average cost of a car is $30,000, modifications cost an additional $65,000. This is not to mention the $100 hourly labor cost and $3,000 year car insurance. Notwithstanding these obstacles, Mario has been driving for the past 9 years and likens his driving experience to that of a video game joystick in that the car is driven by a remote control in which simple movements cause the car to turn.

In addition to financial support regarding his vehicle, Mario would wish for home/health assistance. Mario desires someone to come into his home to assist him with things around the house: preparing meals, running errands, etc. Currently, Mario’s sister is with him from 7am –1pm, and his mother comes over around 5pm. While Mario is thankful for his supportive family, a state-supported home assistant would be valuable.

Mario Reed’s life is a testimony to what hard work, dedication, and a ferocious spirit can accomplish. He finds his strength through his family, his faith, and his positive attitude. “Once a job has begun, never leave it ‘til it's done. Be the labor great or small. Do it well or not at all."


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