Wednesday, October 15, 2008

My Hero, My Inspiration, My Friend…

In life, we all have people that inspire us, and sometimes they don’t always realize how much. I hear from a lot of people that say I inspire them, and while that is a compliment, I feel it has a lot to do with my disability. Strangers have approached me and said I inspire them because I can drive a car, and go grocery shopping by myself. I do understand why people say this, and I don’t think it always has to do with the fact that I have a disability; it is just life. I think we all have people in our lives that inspire us to want to be better. When I really reflect on my life and think about everyone that is dear to me, the one person in my mind that always rises above the rest is my hero, my inspiration, and one of my best friends, Danijela.

In the fall of 1993, I was finally being discharged from the rehabilitation hospital after a long 3 month stay. I had gone through intensive physical and occupational therapy after I had a car accident, which left me with a spinal cord injury. I found out that a couple of weeks after I was discharged they were admitting another young girl with a spinal cord injury, and her name was Danijela.

Accompanied by her mother, Danijela was 13 years old when she came to the United States, and she was being sponsored by a non-profit group called Veterans for Peace. In the early 1990’s, Danijela was a victim of the war in Kosovo, and came to the US to get treatment after she had been shot. I was excited at meeting someone from another country with a spinal cord injury, especially because she was a girl close to my age. After she began learning English from watching television, we started sharing our stories with each other, and we have been best friends ever since.

After a few months at the rehabilitation hospital, the Veterans for Peace organization found a host family for her to stay with because she did not want to go back to a country that had a war going on. She transitioned into a high school, and I was so happy she would be living about a half hour from where I lived. Danijela said if she went back to Kosovo, it would have been very hard to live there with a disability because things are not very wheelchair accessible. After 5 months, Danijela’s mother had to go back to Kosovo and then Danijela was all on her own. She was by herself in the US, living with a wonderful host family, attending high school, and she had a permanent spinal cord injury, all at the age of 14 years old. Over the years she became part of my family as well; we helped her out on many occasions, and even took her to Disneyworld on vacation.

Fast forward to 2008, and at the age of 29, she now has a 4 year old beautiful little boy named Srdjan. A few years ago I got upset at Danijela because every year she was so great about always calling me on my birthday. Well, it got late in the day, so I called her because I thought she had forgotten. Instead, she informed me she was in labor and had given birth to a beautiful baby boy. Danijela is someone that has truly overcome many obstacles, which I admire her for. She works a full time job, is a single mom, and hasn’t been back to Kosovo in 15 years. I couldn’t image not having my mom, my dad and family in my life, and yet live half way around the world from them. Luckily after many years, her mother and father finally got to meet their new grandson, and visit with Danijela. They were only able to stay for one month here in the US, so they did as much as they could in a short time, to make up for the last 14 years that they all had missed. Unfortunately, I was not able to get back east to visit with her family, but I know it was a dream come true for all of them.

Danijela has shown me what it means to be a true survivor. When I have bad days or just need to talk, I call Danijela and she is always so upbeat and positive. When I think of her, I really have nothing to complain about because I have my family here, and Danijela's family is so far away. Danijela and I may live 3000 miles apart, but no matter where we are, we will always be in each others lives. When I went back east to visit my family a couple of months ago, I got to see Danijela, and it was like no time has passed. Since her son Srdjan is only 4 years old, she was trying to explain to him who I was, and I was blown away by what she said when she introduced me. Her comment was, “Srdjan, this is Tammy, the person who taught your mommy everything she knows how to do in a wheelchair.” After so many years of going through life’s challenges with a disability, I guess Danijela and I never really said how much we learned from each other.

It just goes to show you that sometimes you have no idea how much impact you can have on people. I am not perfect and I have bad days, but from the outside looking in, I can see how people can be inspired by the fact that I have a disability, and I am still able to work full time, volunteer, travel, drive a car, and do most anything anyone can do. What is really important is that once in a while; take a moment to tell people that they inspire you to want to be a better person. That is why I wanted to write and share this with Danijela, who is my hero, my inspiration, and my friend.

Tammy Wilber
~Inspiring others, and to being inspired~

On another note; I do have to point out that besides Danijela having such a positive impact in my life, if it wasn’t for the support of my mother throughout all these years after my accident, I don’t know how I would have gotten through many challenges. So, to my mom, she is my backbone, my strength, and also my best friend. If I wrote about her, it would be a novel, and I don’t know how to write a book, so now I am sticking with blogs.

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