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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Spina Bifida and Quality of Life

Quality of life. 

That's something we, as humans, often feel the need to judge. 

When a baby is diagnosed in-utero, parents are too often told they will grow to have no quality of life.  Some parents are even told their child will be a vegetable.  Then comes the fact that their child *may* use a wheelchair, which of course, they make sound like the end of the world.  Oh, and let's not forget that you are told your marriage will likely end in divorce if you take on raising a child with special needs.  You are given a doom-and-gloom speech, then you are offered your "options".  

It's hard to hear the doctor speak these words.  Most of the time I hear new parents express that they are scared.  I read their posts, I reply to their e-mails, and I get it.  The truth is, when I found out Madi would be born with spina bifida, I was scared too.  If I knew then what I know now, I would have saved myself a lot of stress and tears, but I can't go back and change the past.  What I can do, though, is try to reach those parents feeling scared and reassure them that it will all be ok; that their child will be ok.

When I look at my girls I see light.  I see laughter and love.  I see pure joy.  They aren't faking their happiness, or trying to be something they aren't.  They aren't sad, they don't pitty themselves, and they don't let anything stand in their way.  They are smart, talented, creative, hard-working, funny, silly, loving, and the list goes on and on.  Spina bifida is part of them, but it doesn't define them. 

I started to wonder, though, how adults with spina bifida feel; how my girls will feel.  Do adults with spina bifida feel like they have a good quality of life, or do they feel that those doctors are right? Instead of making assumptions, I decided the best way to find out was to ask.  These are the responses I got.  They are unedited and were not filtered in any way.


My name is Chris, I'm 47 and was born with Spina Bifida Myelomeningocele, L4-L5. My parents were told that I would not have a very good quality of life, and I proved them wrong every chance I got. I went to mainstreamed Elementary, Middle and High Schools, and graduated from each. I played on a youth soccer team with non-disabled people and our team won the championship. I then got a degree in Computer Science from a local college. And I also managed to break a Guinness World Record along the way. I've worked at a few jobs, I drive, I have a social life, and enjoy doing many different things. I would say that my quality of life is just fine.  


 Amanda~ I'm not one to let life live me.


I am Heather, 28 from Rochester MN. I was born with L4-L5 Myelomeningocele Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus. I walk mostly, with a brace for support of my left ankle. I use a wheelchair, for long distances. I have had around 10 Spina Bifida related surgeries, plus a few extras for other things.

From elementary school, to high school, I was in regular PE and I was even on the swim team, in Middle School. I had Physical therapy, mostly in my childhood. I started adaptive PE in high school. I got my license and drove, just like anyone else did. I had my first job, at Burger King, at 15. Having other various jobs after that, including always babysitting on the side. I had boyfriends, most whom were able bodied. It seemed the disabled boys, were the ones who didn't work out the most! I went to college for Child Development. When I was 19, I found my now husband online, even though I wasn't even looking for a boyfriend at the time! I moved from Minnesota to Illinois, to live with him. From there, I ended up being a nanny and working for a local company, working door at concerts, on the weekends. We were married in 2006. In 2007, our daughter was born. She died at 4 months. We then had a son, in 2009. We moved back to Minnesota in 2012 and since then, I have been a stay at home mom, with photography on the side, for a job.

I guess what I am trying to say is, being disabled, doesn't have to stop you from living a normal life. Just because your body doesn't work like everyone elses, doesn't mean there's not a way to get things done! I think, your mind is the only thing that can hold you back.


Misty-    My parents were told, like a lot of other brand new SB parents, that I would have no quality of life. They were told I'd never walk, talk, feed myself...I believe the term "vegetable" was used. I find it strange how much I don't actually feel like a potato. My feet don't work. I can't walk long distances. It's never been that big a deal to me. I've never had the use of my feet, and I don't know what I'd do with them if I did. I don't understand why having floppy feet automatically equates to a poor quality of life. If someone needs glasses, we don't have a pity party and cry about how awful it must be to need extra equipment to see, and we certainly don't come to the conclusion that their life must be SO AWFUL that we should "let them go" to end their suffering. I wear leg braces. They help me to have that "quality of life" thing I'm not supposed to have. It's not a big deal. I slap them on when I put my shoes on, the same as you do with your socks. I don't think the 45 seconds it takes to do that really dips into my quality of life. Who decides what "quality of life" is anyway? Quality of life is a choice. I could sit around all day and mope about the fact that I'll never be an NFL running back, or I can praise God for the things I can do! I choose the second one. God has been good to me. I don't have a reason to lay around feeling sorry for myself. I have a good husband, a good family, friends who will wait that extra 45 seconds so I can put my braces on. I get to tell other people what my quality of life will look like. No one gets to decide that for me. I choose to rejoice in what I have.


Susan- When a person looks at the world, they are doing so through their own unique experience (perhaps one reason those without SB view us as having a poor quality of life.). As such, since I have never known what it is like NOT to have Spina Bifida, I don't have anything to compare it to. Comparisons though, in my opinion, are dangerous. Comparisons validate these stereotypes and pre-conceived notions and can lead to self-fulfilling prophecy if we're not careful. Yes, I have had more medical issues than someone without SB. I've had many surgeries. However, these moments have made me stronger, both physically and emotionally. I have defined my quality of life - not by the difficult times, not by what I don't have, not by what I can't do - but by the blessings I have been given.... blessings of family, friends, a job, talents and the ABILITY to make a REAL contribution and difference for others. These are the aspects of life that bring me joy and purpose. There is so much for us to learn from each other and we all deserve that opportunity to decide for ourselves what our definition is of "quality of life".

 Kristen-  Kristen did a research paper on spina bifida in highschool.  Though she has spina bifida, she found what she read quite terrifying and saddening.  She now works towards helping others view spina bifida in a more accurate and positive light, and empowers others to live independently.  She has a youtube channel she keeps updated with videos where she shows how she lives and thrives independently.  She hopes it will be a resource for other parents that don't know where to get their kids help and also for other adults with disabilities.   Her youtube channel is....

Kristen says....

 Despite the fact of being a fulltime wheelchair user I have still managed to live on my own, drive and recently graduated from cosmetology school! And that I make those videos to help and encourage others in chairs and their parents so they can teach their children.


David- David does not have spina bifida, but also experiences judgement on his quality of life as he lives with Duchenne muscular distrophy.  He shares....

Nobody can make that decision for me, but me. I may be fully ventilator dependent, have a trach, depend on a food tube for nutrition, function like a quad and require 24hr supervision, but I absolutely love my life. I'm the smartest person in the family, can tell you how to fix or build almost anything. I've loved & have been loved by the best girl ever (my SB angel) and lost just as much. I'm a very passionate person, I advocate for Duchenne and SB communities where I can.


Nicole-   Thirty-five years ago, I was born to a young couple who had no idea their baby was less than perfect. It wasn't until after I had come into the world that my parents were informed by doctors that their new baby girl had something called spina bifida. I was immediately rushed to another area hospital that could handle my immediate needs, which required multiple surgeries. Later, doctors informed my parents that because of my disability, I would be facing a short-lived life in which I would be a severely mentally and physically disabled , vegetable,  and would have no real quality of life. Because of this, they said, my parents should just allow them to medically starve me to death. They didn't. 
I've lived my life motivated to prove those doctors (whom I've never met) wrong. Not only did I graduate from high school, but I also received my bachelor's degree. I moved away from home to go to college, determined to figure out how to take care of myself. I learned to drive, with a convertible...because I didn't want the cliched "special van". I've gotten married, held down jobs, and bought a house. Not bad for someone with no quality of life. If only those doctors could see me now...      
  I’m Lisa, I’m 38 and I live in Auckland, New Zealand.  I have Spina Bifida at Levels L4,L5 and S1. 
I am currently at university full time and have a part time job.  I’m studying a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Rehab.  I completed another degree when I finished school majoring in Human Resources.  I’ve been working full time since then.
I live independently and pretty much look after myself.  I am very independent and sometimes struggle to ask for help (even when I should)
I had an amputation below my right knee four years ago.   I originally wounded my foot and due to SB complications I ended up with a bone infection.  I eventually asked my ortho to amputate which was a great decision for me.  I am walking again and have to use a splint on my left leg.  I hate the splint, but I have to wear it if I want to walk.  I use a wheelchair for long distance as I get tired.  I don’t use any other mobility aids to walk.  I learnt to drive at 17 and absolutely loved it.  It gave me more independence.  I had to relearn to drive with hand controls after my amputation.  Took me a while to train my brain that the foot was no longer there to brake…haha!
I struggle more with the incontinence/bowel side of SB.  I have been trying for 2 years to get some help in this area.  I get very embarrassed when I have an ‘accident’.  This puts me off having a relationship as I feel insecure. 
I have amazing friends (both able bodied and disabled).  I am very lucky with the good friends I have.  
My family struggled with my amputation and I haven’t seen them since I had it done.  I think my mother in particular carries a lot of guilt which is unnecessary.  I don’t blame anyone.  It was just bad luck.
I love going to movies, concerts, trips away, dinners out, wine and cheese (lol)
For the most part, my life is pretty normal.  Yes I have some things I struggle with, we all do.  But I’m ok with it most of the time....  I’m just trying to be honest.  It’s not all bad, it’s not all great either.  Just like everybody’s life I guess


Monica- It both saddens and angers me that parents are told the same thing mine were 49 years ago. I am an RN, a mom with two great kids, a grandma, a wife with a great hubby. My life is not perfect- but whose is? I am just like everyone else, playing the hand I was dealt the best I can. Just because you have medical challenges does not mean you have no quality.


 Mary-  I feel incredibly blessed that my parents were so motivated from the beginning to ensure that I had every opportunity to reach my full potential, while maintaining as "normal" a childhood as possible. I am especially thankful that they found a medical team with the same philosophy of care. There was very little "sugar-coating" of information-I don't like surprises. I wanted to know what the adults were talking about. I wanted to learn all the "big words." I felt more involved in MY care because I was more informed. I became more involved>doctors talked more and more to me vs. my parents>I started feeling more confident, independent>improved quality of life. Spina Bifida is just one piece of me. I have a masters degree, work full time, own a condo, pay taxes and healthcare premiums(ok those 2 aren't so great); I am a sister, a niece, a daughter, a granddaughter, an aunt, a cousin, a neighbor, a friend. And guess what, no doctor could have predicted any of those, either! Quality of life is something unique to each individual~it's not found in a book. It is not a diagnosis~


Sarah- I am 27, from Australia born with myelomeningocele. I also have a brother and sister born with myelomeningocele. A lot of people assume life with spina bifida is really tough and I suffer. While there certainly are hard times, I love my life and wouldn’t change it for the world. I do some things differently but it doesn’t mean I can’t do them at all. I study full time, have an amazing boyfriend, am learning to drive and one day hope to work in the disability field, advocating for those with physical disabilities. And hey, I’ve even skydived! I believe attitude plays a huge role in determining the quality of our lives and I chose to live happy.


My name is Jane. I'm 21 and I have myelomeningocele spina bifida, L4-L5. My parents were told that I would never walk, talk, attend mainstream school, and one doctor went so far as to say I would be "a vegetable by age 5." None of these predictions came true! I can walk using crutches for short distances, but I do use a wheelchair or a scooter for long distances. Even if I couldn't walk, it wouldn't be the end of the world. My wheelchair and my scooter actually give me more independence! I can run errands, carry things on my own, play wheelchair basketball, and even dance. Doctors were also wrong about my ability to talk. Not only do I talk, but I have written and presented speeches for large audiences. I have participated in a speech competition. I'm a bit rusty now, but I used to be able to speak French pretty well. I love to write, and even have a blog about social justice issues. I can sing, too! In high school, I took voice lessons, piano lessons, and I was the lead singer of a jazz band. I was one of only 25 students to be chosen for the Honors concert, and was also chosen to appear in an ad for the school. I sing in the liturgical chorus at my college's Sunday morning Mass every week. Not only have I always attended mainstream schools, I have been in honors or accelerated programs since 5th grade! I graduated sixth in my class in high school, and I have made the Dean's list (which requires a GPA of 3.5 or higher) most of my semesters in college. I suppose doctors were just trying to prepare my parents for the worst case scenario. Life with spina bifida can definitely be a challenge. I have had health problems, some issues with chronic pain, depression, and anxiety, and I was bullied when I was younger, but I am blessed. I have a wonderful family and group of friends who support me during the hard times and celebrate with me during the good times. Of course I have days where I wish my circumstances were different and wonder what life would be like without spina bifida, but most of the time, I love my life exactly the way it is and wouldn't change a thing!


Tiny Tots said...

Great post and video is so nice, thanks for sharing the way of live quality of life with real hope.

Sarah said...

Thank you so much for putting this together. I was honoured to be a part of it! :)

Counting My Blessings Everyday said...

Thank you so much for sharing! As a parent of a wonderful little boy with SB I have often worried about how his life will be as an adult! This has been so reassuring to read!

christine said...

Great post. I too have Spina Bifida, work and two children .

Living Able said...

Thank you for letting me be a part of this! I love showing the world how "normal" we are!Also thank you for plugging my Youtube channel #LivingAble

Nicole said...

Thanks for allowing me to contribute to this piece! I hope whoever needs it will find comfort and peace of mind from the stories that were shared!

Error!404 said...

Thanks for bringing this topic to the forefront. It is such a powerful testament to the power of the human spirit and to the providence of God. Others need to know we are BLESSED not cursed.

Leah said...

Four weeks ago my son came into this world. In the weeks after birth I've learned a lot about Spina Bifida. Life has changed and so has my outlook on life.

Anonymous said...

My son with SB and daughter were born 1.5 years ago. I was told the exact same things about him. I took him home anyway. At that time I believe that doctors were slowly changing their mind about Spina Bifida. My son underwent surgery a few times and right now he is in pre school. I still sometimes lie awake at night and ponder his future while everyone else was sleeping. My daughter’s life would not be the same if I had not told them we were not giving up on my son. My son is part of the second generation of SB children who have access to better quality medical care and educational opportunities. I’m grateful for that. My mom wanted me to abort my son I looked at her and then refused saying that I was carrying twins. They will be 2 in December. Advances in SB medicine means that my son can have a long happy and productive life.