Did you ever meet someone who made a profound effect on your life? Did this person help you challenge yourself to be more than you were? My friend, Jenni, was one individual who showed me what life is really about, and that nothing is impossible. She gave love and support to anyone she met, and she never surrendered her independence to anyone or anything.
This is her story.
Jennifer Wisser attended West Chester University to become a nurse; however, in 1978, Jenni had a diving accident that left her a quadriplegic (a person who is permanently unable to move or feel both arms and both legs because of injury or illness). She had endured a spinal cord injury, and while she was at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital she was told she would never sit or walk again. She was later transferred to a hospital in Colorado, where she learned how to sit up and use an electric wheelchair.
Despite her restrictions, she set her ambitions high and achieved them.
After her accident, Jenni attended Berkeley University in California, where she received her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology. Jenni then attended San Diego State University where she received her Master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling. Despite being paralyzed from the neck down, Jenni was able to adapt her life, and did not let her handicap stop her from achieving her goals. Unfortunately, people with her condition have shorter lifespans than most of us. There are many medical conditions associated with being a quadriplegic. Although she exceeded the lifespan her doctors predicted, sadly Jenni passed away in 2004, at 46 years old.
This is the story of my very first guardian angel.
I could not understand why this had happened. All I wondered was, why now? Why her? I felt like I was having a bad dream that I could not awaken from. I was only 14 years old when Jenni passed away. It was my first experience with losing a loved one. I grew up never feeling like Jenni was handicapped. I never saw her in a wheelchair because she had a vibrant and contagious personality that could fill a room. She taught me to be appreciative and respectful of others, including those who have physical restrictions or disabilities. Jenni taught me a valuable life lesson: life is a precious gift and we should not waste it. The beauty of the world is right in front of us, and we are the ones who have the opportunity to encounter it.
Jenni will always be remembered for the dedication and determination that helped her to overcome a lifelong injury. She proved that anything is possible if you put your heart and soul into whatever you want to achieve. Her spirit lives on through her family and friends because she has demonstrated to us the strength and willpower it takes to in order to succeed.
I ran my first 5k race shortly after Jenni passed away, and I dedicated my race in her honor. I wanted to stop and give up during the race, but I kept going until I reached the finish line. You cannot give up when life gets tough. You have to embrace life’s challenges and continue on your life’s journey. Time is our only enemy, as we never know when it’s our time – a very valuable lesson I learned from Jenni that has shaped me into the person I am today.
It is time to embrace our independence and overcome any obstacle life may throw our way. And together, it’s time to stop labeling others as different or weird, or not capable of achieving things because of their disability. People are much more than their disabilities. We ALL have disabilities. It’s just that most of us hide them because they are on the inside. Our fears, our weaknesses and our learning differences could all be considered invisible disabilities.
We are all human. We all have flaws. No one is perfect – there is no such thing.
We are guilty, myself included, of judging others before we have a chance to get to know them. That is wrong. We are judging the person based on what we see on the outside – their appearance, their behavior, and their noticeable disabilities. Imagine yourself in someone else’s shoes before you jump to judgment. If you see someone being treated differently because they have a physical, learning, medical, psychiatric, or speech and language disability, empower them by making them feel included. One act of kindness goes a long way. Chances are, you will learn a different perspective on life from this person.
Sharing Jenni’s story allows me to share the values I grew up with that have shaped me into the woman I am today. Acceptance and tolerance of others is an important part of becoming a well-rounded individual, as well as always believing in your own potential by never giving up no matter what obstacles you may face in life.
Nothing is impossible.