The Power of Compassion

The Power of Compassion

Chaya Minkowitz
Miami, Florida

I was born three months premature and weighing less than a pound, I had almost no chance of surviving my first night. I had as much of a chance at living a normal life, after being diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy, a chronic condition affecting body movements and muscle coordination, six months after I was born in 1981.

Anyone who has a disability, no matter big or small, knows they have a lifetime of challenges ahead. The emotional hurdles may be just as difficult, if not harder to overcome, than the physical obstacles faced on a daily basis.

Kids can be unspeakably cruel to children with disabilities because they may look or act differently. This happened to me very often as a young child in elementary school. I knew I was different and constantly wondered why, always thinking “Why me”? Most of all, I badly wanted to be just like the other kids in my class, who could run, jump and do all sorts of physical activities that I always had to sit out on, which made me feel even worse.

The one place where I didn’t feel out of place or self-conscious was when I went to physical therapy nearly every day. I felt I could let myself open up completely to my therapists, let them see my vulnerabilities because they knew what I was going through and how hard it was to do even the most normal of activities. Their enthusiasm and encouragement every time I accomplished even a tiny little thing like taking a step unaided, or knocking over the therapist’s full coffee mug by kicking a ball on the parallel bars after working on them for what seemed like an eternity, made me feel like I was on top of the world. I felt I could accomplish whatever I set out to do because my therapists believed in me, they cared.

As I watched the video on ALEH’s children, memories of myself at that age, struggling to reach my goal of taking a step or picking myself up off the floor, flooded my brain and even now after all these years, I was immediately reduced to tears.

I was so happy to see the kids get the quality of care they deserve and more importantly that they are being treated as human beings, given a chance to reach their full potential amidst caring and dedicated people with whom they can share their successes and failures.

I have had multiple orthopedic surgeries over the years to improve my gait. While each one has been very successful and has improved my quality of life tenfold, it came with a price. Since muscular tension and/or weakness along with limited range of motion are common conditions associated with Cerebral Palsy, keeping my muscles strong by working out several times a week at the gym or in physical therapy is routine for me. However, the long recovery times following surgery prohibited me from working out, resulting in weakness of muscles that had been strong before surgery. I felt like I was going through a vicious cycle, having to build up my strength from square one time and time again.

One of my most rewarding moments came in 2002, while working with my physical therapist on building strength in my hip muscles so I could get up off the floor on my own when I would fall. After working at it for a full week, I finally accomplished my goal, rising to my feet, shouting YES!!! All the therapists in the room, who had witnessed my struggle over the past week started clapping and cheering. I was so happy that I finally accomplished what in the beginning seemed near impossible. The constant encouragement and belief that Yolande Rodier, my physical therapist, had in me when I had none, when I was ready to give up because I was exhausted, my thigh and arm muscles shaking from exertion, made it all possible.

Yolande’s tireless efforts to help me reach my full potential before and after undergoing two orthopedic procedures in 2003 are memories that will stay with me forever. Even now that she’s retired she still cares about my progress, asking me how I am and giving me a big hug whenever she sees me on campus at the University of Miami, where she is taking courses and where I attend school.

Today, I am fully self-sufficient, thanks to years of hard work and determination on my part and the never ending support of my parents and therapists.

An organization like ALEH serves an invaluable purpose to the physically and mentally challenged. The people who work there, who dedicate their lives to these children are the light at the end of a very long, dark tunnel for many of these children. The people of ALEH deserve the highest honor and utmost respect of anyone that is fortunate enough to know about the wonderful, life changing work they do.

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