Happy New Year – it is now 2012 and I am really glad for it! While every year brings new hope and promise, last year started well for me, but had a very unexpected turn. For those who do not follow me or my Abilities United Productions’ page on Facebook, on March 8, 2011, just as I was about an hour away from finishing my short film, “Too Different For Who”? I stopped my editing at about 4:00 a.m. and went to sleep. I woke up about 11:00 a.m. and not realizing it for the next 2 hours (primarily because I lived alone and did not have any phone calls or other interactions with people during that time) I found out I was having a stroke! I was then admitted into the hospital and then into the stroke rehab facility where I spent 3 weeks before returning home. I have been a paraplegic for nearly 16 years at that time and only 46 years of age, so a stroke, which I thought only happened to much older folk in retirement age, was far from my mind of happening – but it did. The good news is that I have recovered the right side paralysis and most of my speech as a result from the stroke. Of course I am still a T-7 complete paraplegic from the Spinal Cord injury I survived back on April 1, 1995, which when the stroke took away the right side of the 40% of able bodied functions that I had on the top half of my body (that was the part left alone from the SCI accident and paralysis) – I was truly relieved when I got that right side part of my function back during my stroke rehab! Taking away half of a half is a real attention getter! And I am still a filmmaker – loving the storytelling on film as a writer, director, producer, and as the businessman, the founder and president of my own independent motion picture production company, Abilities United Productions, as well as an advocate for the fair and equal rights of paraplegics and others with a disAbility in the entertainment industry.
As soon as I got out of the rehab hospital and returned home, I finished the short film – of which I was real glad I had already finished the narration before the stroke, and published it on my home page as well as on YouTube and Facebook. I had some in-home rehab which is normal care for a stroke survivor, but drew extra attention from my hospital doctors and therapists because as a independent person who already lived with challenges as a paraplegic, I was also one who preferred living alone. So with physical occupational, and speech therapists and a medical nurse visiting me regularly, I completed the in-home rehab and they recommended out patient rehab.
In addition to all of that going all – I had a deep desire to once again join up with the “Life Rolls On” foundation’s flagship program “They Will Surf Again” for the second time in my life, when they kicked off the 2011 Season with an event in Huntington Beach, CA, my most beloved home town in SoCal. That was very exciting even though there was a rather unconventional and strange weather storm that hit the area the night before which nearly threatened the event itself, the next morning – the storm had cleared, but the tides were rough causing the surf to be choppy that morning and afternoon of April 9, 2011. And they remained a bit rough when my turn finally came up and so my first run on the surf board riding the wave actually crashed upon me big time. Can you say, “Wipeout”?
I seriously flipped from my feet over my head and the surfboard as the wave engulfed me and I went completely underwater. It was a serious wipeout but I kept my head and was confident that I would float back up to the surface of the water, as my friend, John had testified to later. I was glad he and the many volunteers of the event were right there to help me recover and despite the extreme pain from the wipeout that I felt on my left side rib cage, I was able to manage to get back out there for another wave! I didn’t confess to the pain because I feared I would not get another chance to ride another wave – because even though it was choppy – this was surfing, and not just surfing, it was surfing in Huntington Beach, California! So even though this event and day wasn’t as good as it was my first time joining the “They Will Surf Again” program in La Jolla, CA, the year before, which also landed exactly on my birthday, September 11, 2010,
and despite this event in 2011 was taking place so early after my stroke (shhh, it was only 10 days after I was released from the rehab hospital) but this was…
Huntington Beach – again not only my favorite home town from the past, with many fond memories and where I had surfed many times before (although it was years ago and before my SCI paralysis), it was also the only time the “They Will Surf Again” program was going to be in Huntington Beach for the 2011 season, and this is where both professional and amateur surfers and the city of Huntington Beach, righteously nicknamed it, “Surf City”
– which is the long time home of the U.S. Open Surfing Championship, where surfers from around the world come to compete,
and all together made this a huge event in my mind and especially in my heart! This was still a very special surfing event for me! And can now, I can cross that wish, that dream, that I thought was nearly impossible of happening since becoming a paraplegic – off my list!
I have and continue to thank all of those at the “Life Roll’s On” foundation, and the entire “They Will Surf Again” program with its great volunteers and supporters of the program (individuals and companies that have donated products and services to make this event happen for so many) and of course my dear friend, who is like a brother, John Narvaez, along with his wife, Joelle, and young son, Jack, for not only supporting my choice to attend this against the odds and some would argue common sense (something that I often hold in high esteem), but for coming out to the event and being there to share the moments as well as being my solid support, a mental security, a peace of mind, just in case anything happened during the event that might have been related to the recent stroke I had (which I was very reluctant to share with many people at the event in case it would disqualify me from participating as a surfer that day)
Having John there was very important to me as I had recently learned how very challenging it is when you cannot think properly or communicate what you need or feel – a surreal lesson from the stroke! Learn from your challenges otherwise they will only serve as a bitter disappointment rather than way to improve yourself. So my deep thanks to everyone, as I gave and continue to give a lot of love and appreciation for that day, the entire event, and the now cherished memories that brings a smile to my face every time I think about it!
After that event and special opportunity for me, my life also rolled on! I continued with the stroke rehab, and with some very personal reflections that included re-examining what is important in this life and the common sense Pros & Cons of getting older, which is exponentially faster as a paraplegic and now also as a stroke survivor, I carefully considered and ultimately decided that it was best to follow a new opportunity that meant moving in with my sister, Renee and her wonderful kids who were about to move to Logan, Utah, where I had lived for a couple years just prior to my much anticipated return to my home of SoCal where I grew up! It was a difficult decision since it meant giving up my much coveted living arrangement of solitude and it meant leaving my beloved SoCal, but like most of life’s hard decisions – there is both good and bad that goes along with it! And despite what I had to give up, I did gain a lot – I love my sister and her kids, so being with them and sharing with them every day, along with the comfort of knowing that if I were to have another health challenge – which I am now at a higher risk of having, including the standard 30% chance of having another stroke, plus the additional challenges that I don’t normally talk about but are mostly related to my 16 years as a paraplegic – I feel that this is a great choice!
Therefore, in June of 2011, with help of my family, I moved to Logan, Utah. I immediately had separation anxiety from leaving my home in SoCal, and had the additional challenges of getting all of my healthcare insurance and doctors and prescriptions switched to a new out-of-state location, along with shrinking my stuff into and sharing a living space with 4 people, has taken some getting used to but I am happy! Plus my brother, Travis and his family whom I also love and who also lives in Logan, Utah has been of great comfort!
Meanwhile, I have also continued my self directed rehab of speech therapy to hopefully, eventually recover 100% from the stroke. I am getting there but still have some challenges with finding the words at times and then speaking them, all of which in itself is a bit difficult for a guy who is known for talking a LOT as everyone who even knows me slightly will attest that I am that guy!
Nonetheless, I have done what was best, and unfortunately, this is also why I apologize that I have not blogged except for once during this past year, back in January 2011. That is a big difference from my usual multiple blog posts every month as it was in 2010 and the years proceeding – since I started blogging back in 2006. Not that I think a lot of people read this blog – for many reasons – maybe the content, maybe that it is not on a blogging website and instead is part of my own website – but this is where I am today and for the past 12 months!
This brings me to this Happy New Year of 2012! And I can assure you that I am keeping the faith, hope and promise of an authentic representation for paraplegics and others with a disAbility in American entertainment alive for another year. I do use the common phrase of learning and cherishing the past, living for today, and dreaming of tomorrow, throughout my life but especially at this time of the New Year! So I hope the best for everyone this year and hopefully – even if Hollywood does not change how they operate their portrayals and representation of the images of paras and others with a disAbility in movies and television – I do hope that they will stop repressing those of us that want to provide a solution to the common and often accepted practices of discrimination, and stereotypes, the barriers of attitude toward people with mobility disAbilities and provide us with a fair and equal opportunity to represent ourselves just as all other minorities are given in Hollywood! So, come on Hollywood – let’s all have a truly inclusive industry and live up to the promise that you yourselves proclaim as a proud part of your foundation – that every one has the right to represent themselves in today’s entertainment industry – on both sides of the camera! Let’s all have a great 2012!