“SPINE OF STEEL”
In a blink of an eye, Don’s life was forever changed.
“Straight from work, I made way home aboard my motorcycle shortly before dawn of November 27, 2010. I may have dozed off a bit as I approached a sharp curve near Legazpi Airport. Next thing I knew, I was in the hospital.”
Don slammed into a concrete wall and suffered head injury and spinal fracture.
“When I woke up, I was disoriented. Gradually, I began to remember bits and pieces of my accident.”
When his condition stabilized, Don was transferred to a private hospital in Legazpi City before finally being airlifted to a hospital in Quezon City. He stayed there for almost a year.
“My motorcycle accident left me paraplegic. I was paralyzed from the waist down due to complete spinal cord injury.”
Twenty-three-year-old Don was at the prime of his life at the time of the accident. A graduate of BS Management from Bicol University, he was working as a uniformed personnel and living an active life.
“I battled with depression in the first three months. I kept asking, why me? I couldn’t accept that I have lost the use of my legs. I’m used to being independent and doing things on my own…and yet, I couldn’t even manage to do basic self-care at that time.”
Seeing his mom’s sacrifices snapped him out of his depression.
“I was monopolizing all her time. All she did was attend to my every need. I don’t want that life for her. More importantly, I don’t want to be the invalid and helpless person that people tend to associate with persons on wheelchair.”
He willed himself to forget about the things he had lost. Instead, he focused on getting better and doing research.
“I wanted to know everything about my condition – the extent of my injury, the parameters of my physical limitations and the best way to cope with it. I drew inspiration from watching videos of amazing individuals who were not only able to recover from this debilitating injury but even went back to doing extreme sports. Their wheelchairs and vehicles are designed to suit their mobility as well as their active life.”
After undergoing extensive rehabilitation, Don went back to his hometown.
“For two months, I stayed indoors. I did not have the guts to venture out and meet my neighbors and friends. But then I realized, why should I be ashamed? Losing the use of my legs doesn’t define who I am nor my capabilities.”
Accepting his disability was a vital step towards conquering his new world. Addressing his mobility needs came next. He first invested on a customized wheelchair before teaming up with his mechanic friend to modify his car and set up a mechanism for hand control.
“The customized car and wheelchair were a little pricey but all worth it. They afforded me not only mobility but also independence. I drive myself around and go anywhere I want without needing the help of anybody. That is why, I get so frustrated when the facilities are not accessible.”
Indeed, inaccessible built environment has been a perennial problem for wheelchair users like Don. Luckily for him, he’s not alone in this fight.
“This year, I became a member of the Disabled People’s Organization thanks to SIMON. I was invited to be part of the Andam Lahar Project. It was a great exposure activity for me as I was able to meet fellow disability advocates who are passionate in their advocacy for our rights and inclusion – accessibility among them.”
Don currently sits as President of Persons with Disabilities in Barangay Ilawod in Camalig.
He looks forward to continuing their barangay’s collaborative partnership with SIMON through the implementation of Disability Inclusive Disaster Risk Reduction and Management (DIDRRM), a five-year project (2020 to 2024) supported by Mission Alliance of Norway.
“It presents a great opportunity to address inclusion issues and enhance response programs for persons with disabilities and other vulnerable groups in times of disaster. I’m really grateful that they have chosen our barangay as one of the project areas. I do hope that when the project ends, we will be able to sustain it.”
The tale of Don’s personal struggle and triumph continues. No accident can quell his positive mindset, his ingenuity, his zest for life and faith in God. Afterall, he has a spine of steel.
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