People We Know
Liliana Marasco Garrido and Faustino Navarro Santos explain medical problems facing polio survivors at a meeting in Mexico City, October 29, 2007.
The Provan Opportunity Center in Pflugerville, Texas, in memory of Austin attorney and polio survivor Robert Provan, who died July 6, 2007.
Robert Provan (right) speaking in 2000 at PHI's Eighth International Post-Polio & Independent Living Conference, held in Saint Louis, Missouri, which featured 89 speakers experienced with post-polio and independent living issues.
Three hundred individuals - polio survivors, ventilator users, health professionals, and exhibitors from 14 countries and 39 states - participated in the three-day event.
At right, Robert Provan addresses the crowd while holding the torch in celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
C. Donald O'Connor (front) with (left) Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Endler, U.S. District Judge John T. Curtin, and Acting U.S. Attorney Roger Williams.
During this season of thanksgiving and celebration, it is well to reflect upon the life of C. Donald O'Connor - a man who triumphed in spite of enormous odds, a man who lived his life with honor and dignity. On September 28, 2007, Don succumbed to complications of post-polio syndrome.
Born in Elmira, NY, on July 1, 1929, Don graduated from Baldwin-Wallace College in 1950, with his wife Kay by his side. The couple then moved to Ithaca, NY where Don commenced the study of law at Cornell University. After graduation, he briefly practiced law in the central NY community of Caroline Corners. In 1954, the couple (with children Penelope and Edward in tow), moved to Alaska - Don had been appointed as Assistant U.S. Attorney for Division I District of Alaska. Soon, the couple was blessed with the arrival of their third child, William.
Don contracted polio at the age of 26, just one year after arriving in Alaska. He was transferred to the Northwest Respirator Center in Seattle, where he remained in an iron lung for several months. Eventually able to be weaned from the iron lung, Don was left with paralysis of both legs and his right arm. But, never daunted, Don mastered the use of his left arm to write, type, shave, work and help care for his family. He remained in Alaska as an Assistant U.S. attorney, preparing Alaska for its transition from territory to statehood. In 1960, Don accepted a position as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Western District of New York. He remained in that position, and that of interim U.S. Attorney, until his retirement in 1987.
But, what set this man apart from the masses was his refusal to allow polio to interfere with his personal and professional goals. Engaged for much of his career in an era that made little or no accommodation for wheelchair-bound individuals, Don developed his own adaptations - without complaint or expectation.
He was a devoted father, spending time each day to play cards and board games with his children. He touched the lives of many children beyond his family as a long-time Little League coach on Grand Island, and to his death, he remained an avid Boston Red Sox fan . Challenged with ongoing medical problems of his own and that of his wife, he was buoyed by the support of loving family, friends, and professional associates.
Never content to think only of his own needs, he became the co-founder, president and active member of the Polio Survivors Support Group of Western New York and worked tirelessly to secure transportation facilities for all disabled individuals in the region. He was the glue that kept us together - on track, determined, optimistic.
As fellow members of the support group founded by Don, we must continue to fight for the rights and needs of polio survivors. Moreover, we must do our part to see that polio is soon eradicated from the planet . We must do C. Donald O'Connor proud! -Janice Nichols
(Christmas 2003 Letter)
My dear friends:
It's been a special year. On January 1, at age 70, I retired from my job at the Veterans General Hospital after 31 years as consultant for vocational evaluation. I now have a new job as an English consultant at the Jesuit-run Kuangchi Program Service. I spent two and one-half months visiting relatives and friends in the States and Philippines. In August I was one of nine persons in Taiwan chosen to receive a Medical Service Award presented by President Chen Shui-Bien. On September 27th we celebrated the 30th anniversary of Operation De-Handicap which Ignatius Huang and I founded 30 years ago. In October, I moved from the Vincentian parish church in Shihpai, where I resided for 31 years, to the Jesuit community of Kuangchi Program Service in Taipei.
When I got polio in Taiwan in 1958, there were no rehabilitation facilities. Thirteen years later when I first began work as a vocational rehabilitation consultant in Taipei, there were already several good rehabilitation medical facilities offering therapy services, but few if any follow-up services. Rehabilitation patients often went home to vegetate for lack of follow-up. They did not know where to go or what to do. They were in need of counseling and guidance, information and referral. So I began to dream of starting such a service myself, if only I could find someone motivated and qualified enough to help me.
Then one day, an old friend, Ignatius Huang, dropped by to say hello. For several years he had been moderator, counselor, and role model for boarders in a middle school youth center for boys where I had also served. Though he ruled them with an iron hand, they treasured his advice and respected him as Big Brother. Dedicated to the ideals of service for others, he had come to tell me that though his college major had been in the field of printing and publishing, he had decided to accept an invitation to join the staff of a Lifeline telephone emergency and counseling service in his home town. I felt that Ignatius' character and talent of dealing with people were just what I was looking for. So I asked him to consider coming to work for me instead. With his fiancée's agreement to this change in their plans, he accepted and our partnership was born. Mr. Huang would be the contact person, counselor, and guide for our "clients" and help them to find training and jobs and sometimes, it also turned out, help them find suitable husbands or wives. I would do my best to find the needed funds and support.
The English name Operation De-Handicap expresses the goal of ODH to help remove the physical and social barriers which prevent persons with disability from leading normal productive lives in spite of their disabilities. The Chinese name of ODH is "Geng Sheng (Better Life) Rehabilitation Service Center," based on a Chinese saying "Dz li Geng Sheng" which means "to better one's own life through one's own efforts."
ODH is a center for helping persons to help themselves. The ultimate responsibility for rehabilitation lies on the shoulders of the disabled themselves.
In principle, we decided that the counseling services would be free. Seminars, excursions, or other activities would be charged at cost, but those who could not afford the charges would be subsidized, if possible. From the very beginning it was our intention not only to be a resource of information for persons with disability, but also for all those in the community who wished to assist in their rehabilitation, including other rehabilitation service personnel.
In the beginning, most ODH cases were polio survivors, for whom we have published two manuals about how to deal with the debilitating effects of the post-polio syndrome which is affecting more and more of them. One day 15 years ago a doctor who was treating five families who had children with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, an hereditary progressively debilitating disease that affects young male children, requested ODH to counsel and advise the parents. Since then we have been providing regular information, holding seminars, helping families anticipate and cope with problems, and sending out a regular newsletter to over 120 families for their mutual support and exchange of information and experiences, and we have published two muscular dystrophy handbooks. For the past 25 years, Operation de-Handicap has published a quarterly Restoration Magazine in Chinese that now goes out to 2,500 people and agencies all over Taiwan. It contains information about pertinent rehabilitation issues, editorials and personal experiences of persons with disability.
ODH also maintained an internet web page. (no longer online).
I am proud of the achievements of Operation De-Handicap, but the only thing I can take credit for is founding it and supporting it through the gathering of donations. The credit for all the work belongs to Ignatius Huang, his assistant for sixteen years, David Chi Li-wei, and the hundreds of others who volunteered their help over the years. These services would also never have been accomplished without the prayers and support of all our benefactors in Taiwan and abroad. May God shower you all with His blessings. Enclosed is a copy of our 3011 Anniversary Book. It is all in Chinese, but the photos tell the story without words. With this gift come our wishes that you may all enjoy a blessed holidays and a healthy prosperous new year.
Fr. Bob Ronald, SJ
End of PEOPLE WE KNOW