At the age of 14, my life dramatically changed in a split second when I dove into a lagoon located in the beautiful mountains of Pennsylvania. I lost all movement and sensation from the neck down unable to turn on my back in order to breathe. Just before nearly drowning, I was rolled on my back with the sun blaring in my eyes to an entirely new life. I endured operations and near-death from respiratory failure, but the worst part was when my doctor told me I would never walk again.
I rejected this Outlook for my life and refused to go on living as a quadriplegic. I refused to get into the wheelchair and skipped therapy because I felt accepting my injury meant failure. It wasn’t until I turned more deeply to my faith and prayer that I had a dramatic change of attitude towards my new life with paralysis. Once I decided to make the best of my life and allow God to do the rest I started to regain independence with my wheelchair and special hand splints. I always had an interest in becoming a physician, but was intimidated by the bookwork and lacked the confidence to even consider such a vocation. My injury turned my curiosity about being a physician passion and dream. I spent all of my spare time reading about the human body and why I could no longer walk.
Becoming a physician was also exciting to me because I wanted to comfort people and heal people the same way my physicians did for me. Revisions to become a physician took a detour when every medical school to which I replied rejected me because of my physical disability. At this point, I felt so confident that this was my calling in life that I was willing to risk it all with a fight in the national media.
When my college friends went off to medical school I spent the next two years studying graduate-level biochemistry, volunteering at hospitals, change in Pennsylvania state law regarding access to education for the disabled, and did several radio and television interviews. In the end, I found a medical school that was going to focus on my abilities instead of my disability and I was given the opportunity to become a physician. All of the arguments used for rejecting the medical school were quickly dispelled after I graduated from the Albert Einstein College of medicine in the top 10% of my class and completed residencies and fellowships in internal medicine and nephrology. I now enjoy a full-time practice as a kidney specialist helping patients from what I learned from living on both sides of the stethoscope.
During this incredible journey, I believe God was steering me through the storm giving me multiple blessings along the way. If it wasn’t for that fateful day, I would have have never met my wife and had my two wonderful children. When I look back, I don’t know how I had the energy to complete all of the requirements for medical school and residency. For certain, I could have never done it without the help of my wife. Over the years I’ve counseled many individuals with disabilities on gaining admission into medical school.
On the day of my accident, my gasp for air and eyes opening into the direct sunlight was in a way a rebirth into a new life. By allowing God to lead my life it has been enriched in so many ways. I have the unique privilege and opportunity to understand the complexities of human disease and enter into the lives of those who are scared with threatening illness. Because of my unique situation, I’ve grown deeper in my faith and have a greater appreciation for life.