Tennessee Kindred Stories of Disability

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

Steve (61), Cerebral Palsy, Blount County

"Even after coping with and recovering from spinal fusion surgery, Steve’s greatest current need is dental care. "

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

Steve is a 61-year-old resident of Maryville, Tennessee.  He graduated from high school in 1970 and worked in grocery stores for many years in several different positions.  Steve has a complex medical history that begins early in his childhood.  He has Cerebral Palsy and hearing challenges that began at age 2 or 3.  He now wears two hearing aids, but this was not always the case.  He regrets not having had hearing aids during his school years.  He also has vision challenges that were diagnosed in 1988.

After many years of working in grocery stores, Steve’s right foot began to bother him. When walking, he could not manage to get his right toe off of the ground. As it turned out, he had degenerative disc disease. In 2006, Steve required spinal fusion surgery. As Steve explained, “[They] put my neck together, put metal plates in, and donor bone.  The only thing that will move in my neck are the two upper joints.”  This major surgery brought on a number of changes in Steve’s life.  While the surgery was a success, this success did not come without its fair share of challenges.  In Steve’s words, “Yes, it was a success, and the doctor told me that I would probably never walk again.  They didn’t give me any therapy or anything.”  For the first time in his life, Steve found himself having to be more dependent on others than he was used to.

Seven years later, Steve’s recovery has completely exceeded the expectations of his doctors.  Though life isn’t the same, he has reclaimed his independence and walks with the aid of a walker.  Steve never received any therapy or assistance.  As he explained, no one entertained the notion that he would walk again.  Armed with a strong will and determination to stop using a wheelchair, he steadily defied those expectations.  Steve explained, “My wife would always scream at me to get back in the chair.  Once we split up, I saw to get away from that dang chair.”  He still lives in the apartment that is part of his mother and brother’s home; however, they leave him alone, and he cares for himself completely. He walks with the walker whenever possible and uses the wheelchair sparingly.  He still has no feeling in his right leg. Referring to his wheelchair, he explained matter-of-factly, “I try to stay out of it.  I feel like the more I try, the more I won’t be in it.”  In spite of his progress, his greatest fear is still “getting back in that wheelchair completely.”  He currently only uses it 1-2 times per week, usually after he has had to walk or stand for long periods of time.

Even after coping with and recovering from spinal fusion surgery, Steve’s greatest current need is dental care.  Several years ago, when he was facing a dental health crisis, a group of Steve’s friends came together to support him.  They provided him with the funds he needed to have his teeth completely “fixed up.”  He said gratefully, “If my friends didn’t help me, I’d be toothless now.”  When they called to let him know that they would be able to help him get the dental work he needed, he said, “It was an answer from heaven.”  It has now been 4 or 5 years since he received that dental care, and Steve now finds himself in need of follow-up care.

In spite of the medical challenges, Steve lives a typical life.  His day consists of a taking a bath, fixing breakfast, watching a little TV, checking mail, and making trips to the store.  He has friends who he enjoys spending time with, he likes to work crossword puzzles, and he loves to read magazines.  His greatest hope for the future is also one that almost any person can relate to: “My biggest hope is to find a lady who sees me for who I am and that I can spend the rest of my life with…That’s what I want the most- not money, not cars, not riches- I’d rather have a companion.”






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