Student Profile: Tyler Clark

 

Throughout my entire life, I have had to endure the pain of cerebral palsy and fought every day to prevent it from controlling/defining my life. I have used my positive, determined attitude to overcome any obstacle. Doctors told my parents that I would have to use a wheelchair to move around, or walk with crutches if I was lucky. To me though, walking with crutches was not enough; I wanted to prove the doctors wrong, I wanted to walk without crutches and have fought all my life to be able to do so. Due to being born almost three months prematurely in 1992, I was put into two different neonatal units at two different hospitals, dying twice in the process, but was revived each time. When I got home, I was a very, fragile, nearly transparent infant, who weighed only two pounds, thirteen ounces and was small enough to fit in the palm of my dad's hand. My parents kept a constant watch on me using an APNEA machine, which monitored my heart and breathing rates, and gave me eight different medications in order to sustain my fragile life and maintain as healthy a body as possible. A few months after being taken off the APNEA machine, I was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Along with all of this, I experienced everything a normal infant experiences: minor colds, fevers, and an especially severe ear infection. Then, on December 22, 1995, the doctors performed a surgery on my legs to lengthen my hamstrings. After the casts were removed, I was able to walk with a walker and then crutches a few years later. I was often very sad and jealous because my friends could always outrun me. I didn't think I would ever be able to do as much as they could. I also had two eye surgeries in 1996 to correct my lazy eye. Unfortunately, both surgeries failed, leaving me with the lazy eye to this very day. However, I never quit fighting.


Around 1998, the doctors suggested that I get botox shots injected into my hamstrings. The shot would kill the muscle in my leg in a short period of time, but the muscle would then come back stronger than before. The shots were excruciatingly painful. Only a few shots were administered to each leg, but it felt like an tyler clarketernity. I cried and screamed for them to stop. The doctors had numbing cream, but it only numbed my skin, not the nerve itself. After the shots were finished, the back of my legs were covered in small punctures, surrounded in bruises, and bleeding. 


When my family and I moved from Michigan to Fort Wayne in 2000, I started elementary school. I was very scared at first because I was different from everyone else. I always strived to maintain a positive attitude and did my best to not let my disability affect my academic performance. Eventually, I made a great number of friends and began to feel accepted. The only thing that truly bothered me in school was Physical Education. Often, I had to sit out and just watch others accomplish feats that I could only dream of. I always tried my best, but was always upset when my friends earned Presidential and National Fitness Patches. I always hoped I would receive one of those patches. Although I never received a patch, I feel that if they gave fitness patches away for effort, I would have had the most out of my class. 


The only reason I was not completely downcast at school was because of my dad, who was in a car accident a few days after my birth that left him a paraplegic. I was often given hope by seeing him do things, such as driving, cooking, fishing, and hunting, even though he is in a wheelchair. Whenever I saw him, I thought to myself, “If he can do this, why can't I?" What really amazed me though, was that soon my friends started asking me for help with schoolwork. At first, I was confused. I never would have believed that I could be better at something than anyone. I always assumed that when I got B's, they got A's; when I got A's, they got A+'s. I found that I excelled the most at English, and later, in music. I loved reading and often helped my friends understand the novel we were reading in class. Because I was reading such high level books, such as The Lord of the Rings in elementary school, my teachers wanted me to skip a few grades. My parents refused however, saying that they wanted to grow up as normally as possible. I also started playing the violin in sixth grade. Although I always loved the sound of the violin, at first, I struggled with learning how to play. It became increasingly difficult when I got appendicitis in that same year and ended up missing almost six weeks of school. When I got back to school, I grew extremely frustrated because everyone in all of my classes knew things that I did not. I watched as my friends played on their instruments and sounded wonderful. I managed to catch up on my schoolwork, but almost gave up on the violin. Overtime, I improved at the violin. I now practice almost every day and have been commended on my talent by my teachers, friends, and family. While I was starting to excel in school, the botox shots continued 1-3 times a year. Then, after several years of pain, the doctors figured out how to put me to sleep so that I would feel less pain while I was given the shots.


 Later that year, I met Dr. Lazoff, who knew of an operation that would eventually give me almost complete use of my legs. In the summer of 2000, I was placed in a cast extending from my waist down to my toes, on each leg, with two metal bars connecting my legs. For six weeks, I had to scoot anywhere I wanted to go, unless I was pushed in a wheelchair or carried. I remember that my mom had to carry me up the stairs of our apartment while I complained how itchy the plaster was. As I remember this event, I realize that this has been the only time in my life that I have felt disabled. Yet, throughout all of my misery and boredom, I remained optimistic because I had something to look forward to: I was going to be able to walk. After six weeks the cast was sawed off. The minute I got home, my mom and dad wanted me to walk. I tried to walk, but the second I attempted to stand, pain shot all throughout my body, and I was instantly down on the ground crying. I was sentenced to a few more weeks in bed over the summer. Then, I met with Dr. Lazoff again, who immediately signed me up for therapy in a swimming pool once a week where I could learn to put weight on my feet without falling and to learn leg strengthening exercises. At first, any weight I put on my feet would cause me great pain and many tears. Eventually, the pain left me, and I could use my legs to stand but not yet walk. 


A couple of years later, I graduated from the pool and started therapy on land. There, the therapy was extremely rigorous, and I always left feeling weak, sore, and extremely tired. I always pushed myself to do better than I had before, no matter how much it hurt. Various exercises helped strengthen my legs and my core and trunk muscles. The therapy and my hard work paid off, because in the spring of 2007 I no longer needed botox shots.


Today I still go to therapy for my back due to my scoliosis. My whole life has been a balancing act. Since starting high school,I have had to balance academics, practicing the violin, my part time job, and physical therapy. Yet, throughout all of this work, I have still managed to maintain mostly A's and B's, earned a Kiwanis Citizenship Award, taken four honors classes and three Advanced Placement classes, and made the Honor Roll several times. My disability never has affected my academic performance, and it never will. Presently, I can walk much more than I ever could before. I proved the doctors wrong and made the impossible possible. People are often shocked about me. The doctors see me as a miracle— a young man with cerebral palsy who managed to prove them wrong. People I see everyday are often amazed that I am as positive as I am. They see me as disabled and, therefore, think my attitude should reflect that. But if I am not positive and let everything that has happened to me bring me down, how can I expect anyone else to be? It has been quite difficult to write this essay because of my attitude. I often don't think about therapy, surgeries, or my condition as obstacles. If I fall, for example, I don't just lie on the ground and cry; I pick myself up, brush myself off, and try again. I don't see myself as disabled; I see myself as challenged every day. A challenge that will not prevent me from living my life the way I want; this is a challenge I will overcome.