This is an excerpt from Thriving Through It, How They Do It: What it Takes to Transform Trauma into Triumph by Joyce Ann Tepley. John died a few years ago.
John Roberts, Resource Organizer (43)
Though he was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy at the age of fourteen, John’s symptoms started when he was eight and steadily worsened. His younger brother also had muscular dystrophy and died of respiratory failure. At the time of being interviewed for my thriver study, his older brother developed congestive heart failure and had a heart transplant, so he saw himself as the healthy one in his family.
Born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, he said of himself, “I was an active child. I had lots of friends. I played and goofed around, and we played sports all the time.”
His father was a hospital supply salesman and later had his own catalog photography business. Though his parents divorced when he was ten and his mother remarried an old family friend, he saw his father on weekends.
“My parents were perfect for what I had. There was never even a discussion of there being anything wrong. It wasn’t an issue.” They were supportive of everything he tried to do.
After college, he moved to Dallas, Texas, on the prompting of a friend because he couldn’t find a job in his home state. His health was getting worse, so he started relying on a wheelchair, which gave him freedom of movement and freedom from the fear of falling. He found work in what he thought was accounting but turned out to be debt collecting. Within six months, he was promoted two times, and within five years, he was made supervisor because he was so good at skip tracing. Working on the telephone and being good with people made it the perfect job for him. His coworkers will never let him forget what they called Black Friday. An ice storm came through Dallas. His office did not close. Living two miles from work, he rolled in on the ice in his motorized wheelchair, ahead of everyone else. The head boss, who was in town staying at a hotel across the street, walked to the office slipping and sliding, entered the building, and saw John rolling over to his desk, ready to make phone calls. Two of the managers who didn’t make it in were fired.
Due to health reasons, he had to retire. He said, “After taking a spiritual inventory, I [searched] my life and what it meant.” He joined Many Hands Ministry and became a community organizer/volunteer, helping people in dire straits find resources to repair their homes, get food, and have what they need to survive. He was not raised a religious person, but he is good on the phone, he serves people, and he feels blessed by God, who now is the driving force in his life. “It’s like a renaissance.”
He is able to live independently with the help of loyal attendants who taught him how to manage life in a wheelchair and who help him with meals, cleaning, and transportation.
He sees muscular dystrophy as a gift to demonstrate to others how to thrive “because of and in spite of” its disabling effects.