I was born with a rare birth defect called TARSA Syndrome , which means I am missing the radius bone in my forearms. My arms were shorter because of this condition, but I never thought of myself as different. I don’t like being labeled as a “disabled” person because I feel like I can do anything I want. With the support of my parents, friends and a special program for youth with disabilities, I have learned how to fight for myself, and how to be strong.
That doesn’t mean it has been easy. I went though some bad experiences, like being picked last for baseball games or the way people looked at me funny when I was out in public. But mostly, people accepted me and helped me. In elementary school, the other kids would help me open my locker, pick up books or do some of the other tasks that were hard for me.
My family had come here from Poland specifically so that I could get treatment, because my country didn’t have the technology to help me. I missed some school, especially second grade, for a series of surgeries at the Los Angeles Shriners Hospital to lengthen my forearms. I had to work hard to keep up academically. Luckily, my parents were always there for me. They’d go with me and talk to the counselors about what I needed. They’d carry my books for me.
When I went to seventh grade, I had to leave behind the comfort of elementary school, where I knew everyone, and make new friends. Would I be able to find people who could see me as ME and not as someone with a disability? Every day, I would sit alone at lunchtime. I felt so shy and I guess I was expecting people to come up to me. But I made a few friends, and then we added a few more, and soon I had a group of eight friends and we had great times together.
In junior high and high school, as classes got harder, I struggled more. I noticed that the person next to me could sleep through class, and still earn average grades, while I’d have to work my butt off . I need more time to memorize things, to take notes, write or type on the computer. Luckily at Walnut High School, they allowed me to take my tests during a different class period so I could have more time. I never had to take “specialed” classes.
When I was a sophomore, I wrote an article about myself for the school newspaper, and people started asking me what my disability was like. They told me I was brave for having gone through the 15 surgeries I needed to help correct my condition Beauty Box. I never heard anyone say anything mean, and it felt good to help people get to know me better.