A Story of Overcoming the Odds

I know I sound like a cd or mp3 that keeps repeating when I say this, but I have the best job in the world. Why, you ask? I get to meet really interesting people on a daily basis. Whether it’s current Duquesne students, alumni, people in the Pittsburgh community, parents, faculty, and staff. I find their backgrounds interesting. I guess this relates to a personal philosophy that I have: We have more in common as humans than we have that’s different.

mel and josMeet Josie Badger (pictured on left). I recently learned of her story and have become fascinated by the dedication, perseverance, and ability to overcome some significant odds she has exhibited. Not bad for this time of year with March Madness happening and underdog stories being told on a daily basis. Josie is a graduate student in the McAnulty College of Liberal Arts pursuing a doctorate of Healthcare Ethics. I recently interviewed her and here is a transcript of our conversation.

For those reading this who are unfamiliar with muscular dystrophy, how would you describe it to them?

Muscular dystrophy is an umbrella term for genetic muscle wasting conditions. There are over thirty types that vary by the age of onset, muscles affected, and severity. Mine is a rare congenital (since birth) myasthenic syndrome. In other words, all of my voluntary muscles become very weak with any use or repetition. This includes breathing, keeping my eyes open, speaking, talking, writing, etc. Therefore, I use a power scooter, ventilator, service dog, and 24-hour care assistance.

I live on my own in the North Hills with my two cats and two dogs in my one-bedroom apartment.

Tell me about your background? Where are you from originally? What did you study for your bachelor’s degree?

I grew up about an hour north of here on a 100-acre farm. So I am honestly a country girl at heart. Until I was eighteen I planned to become a veterinarian. However, that was not the plan God has for me. The summer before my senior year of high school I was invited to attend the National Youth Leadership Network conference in Washington, DC. This event was created to empower youth leaders with disabilities to become leaders in their community and country. The first night that I was there, I knew my life would be changed forever. It is a room filled with young leaders with significant disabilities, I knew that I was made for a reason and that reason was to be a voice for disability. Mark Twain once wrote, “there are two most important days in your life, the day were born and the day you find out why” and this was that day for me. I went to Geneva College, a small conservative Christian college in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania for my undergraduate degree in disability law and advocacy. It was during that time that I became comfortable in my own skin and decided to use my disability to make a positive change in my community. While I was there, I served as class president and became a member of Delta Alpha Pi, a disability honors society. After completion of my bachelor’s degree, I moved to Pittsburgh to pursue my Masters in rehabilitation counseling from the University of Pittsburgh. During that time, I lived on the North side with a roommate who was blind. This experience taught me an amazing amount about urban living and the barriers that other individuals face with diverse disabilities. After graduation in 2009, I was accepted to Duquesne University in their Doctorate of Healthcare Ethics program.

What drew you to Healthcare Ethics?

make up mwa 12Growing up, I spent a significant amount of my childhood at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. Because I have a rare and severe condition, it took eleven years to get an official diagnosis from the Mayo Clinic. During those eleven years, I witnessed the best and worst of medical care. Although I have been extremely blessed with overall fantastic healthcare, there are a multitude of situations that should have never occurred or should have been handled differently. Due to my age and inability to self-advocate, I was at the mercy of the care providers. As a survivor of a “childhood disease”, I want to be able to use my personal experience and education to protect the rights and voice of youth and children in the healthcare system. Presently, over 90% of children with complex healthcare needs survive into adulthood; however, the services are not available to protect their rights and opportunities.

Professionally, what would you like to accomplish?

To be honest, I’m not sure. Planning never really worked out for me. God has opened up a multitude of doors and opportunities for me throughout my life and by pursuing those opportunities I’ve gone places I would’ve never imagined or planned for. My hope is to become involved in developing system wide transition plans for youth with complex healthcare needs and to develop youth empowerment models within healthcare systems that prepare these young adults for life after pediatrics

Tell me about Ms. Wheelchair Pennsylvania. How did you get connected with this organization?

My involvement with the Ms. Wheelchair Pennsylvania and America organizations occurred fairly serendipitously. When I was about sixteen I was at a Cracker Barrel in Ohio and a woman in a wheelchair pursued me about entering the Ms. wheelchair Ohio competition, unfortunately not only was I too young but I also did not live in Ohio. About four years later, I looked into the Pennsylvania pageant. I was a contestant in that is year’s pageant but did not win and swore that I would never do it again. However, six years later I went against my own advice and entered. After I was crowned Ms. Wheelchair Pennsylvania, all state winners are then entered into the national pageant. The 2012 pageant was in Grand Rapids Michigan and state title holders from across the country were there to compete for the title of Ms. Wheelchair America. Although I am not a pageant type of girl, I am a competitive type of girl so of course I was extremely nervous. All of the women from across the country were amazing, it was truly an honor to just be there with them, and little did I know that by the end of that seven-day competition I would be named Ms. Wheelchair America 2012. Being a title holder for Ms. Wheelchair America I had the opportunity to travel to Switzerland and across the US talking about disability awareness and youth empowerment. One of my favorite memories was meeting a three-year-old in Connecticut (pictured to right)

Josie pictured on left.
Josie pictured on left.

She was just learning how to walk with leg braces and was completely amazed that Ms. Wheelchair America was there to visit her. We discussed the fact that someday she could be the one wearing the crown.

You’ve accomplished a lot, what advice would you offer to other students?

90% of success is showing up. Get involved and use your resources wisely.


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