I was sitting in the Campus Voice newsroom while my colleagues were reviewing the raw footage of an interview for our Professor Spotlight series, with Dr. Joseph (Dan) Husband, professor of biology and environmental sciences. No, I’m not offering any spoilers–however, upon watching the footage, I was moved by Husband’s endeavors in helping others. Professor Husband gives his time to help those who are wheelchair bound participate in races. I decided to reach out to Husband and find out what motivated him to begin helping others.
On May 25, 2009, Husband was faced with what he describes as the most stressful day of his life–the day his daughter Chera was born prematurely at 24 weeks and weighing only 1lb. 4oz. Husband said, “That day, after seeing her in the incubator, I went into the hall and was looking at the photos of kids who had been there and were now growing up. There was not one single ‘normal’ child in the bunch. They were all in wheelchairs or using walkers etc. I just couldn’t hold in the tears, I stood there in the hall crying. The idea that my child would suffer (not to mention the strain and responsibility of having a special needs child) was overwhelming. I’ve never been so terrified in my life,” Husband said.
For the three months that followed, Husband and his daughter’s mother lived in the Ronald McDonald house (RMH), taking turns in the neonatal intensive-care unit (NICU) with Chera. “So many things can go wrong; brain bleeds, necrotic bowel, etc. I did some research and calculated the odds that my baby would be Okay. We had about a 1 in 20 chance. It is extremely common for micropreemies, as they’re called, if they’re as premature as she was, to have multiple sclerosis and or other nervous system problems,” he said.
Husband recalls one day in the NICU which really stood out to him. “She had breathing and feeding tubes down her throat. As I sat there reading a book to her (we couldn’t touch her at all yet) I noticed that she was crying. You couldn’t hear it because of the tubes. She was in pain or something. It’s difficult for me to describe the feelings of anguish and helplessness that I felt. Her mom came in to relieve me and I walked back to the room at RMH. I was overcome with anger at God, at myself etc… I punched the bed and threw things all over the room…I couldn’t make too much noise because there are lots of families there. They’re all dealing with bad situations. I buried my face in the pillow and screamed at the top of my lungs for probably fifteen minutes. Finally I collapsed on the floor. I was physically and emotionally exhausted. I was lying there crying and pleading with God. I promise I’ll be a better man God, please, please, let her be OK,” Husband said.
Then something came on the television that had been left on in the room. “As I lay there, begging a God I wasn’t even sure I believed in to intervene, a story came on about Rick and Dick Hoyt. When Dick was born the umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck. The lack of oxygen caused permanent brain injury. He would be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life, unable to speak or even feed himself. They eventually discovered that he was perfectly fine cognitively. He understood everything and was actually quite intelligent. The dad started pushing his son in races. Dick told his dad that when they were running he felt ‘free of his disability.’ I’d always been an avid runner and fitness enthusiast. Watching the story, I decided that if Chera was in a wheelchair I’d spend the rest of my life doing whatever I could to make her as happy as possible,” Husband said.
Husband refers to running as being like “Zen meditation.” “If you’re really pushing yourself, you’re too focused on your pain to focus on your ego or troubles. It’s very freeing. Also, the feel of the wind and sun on your face is something most runners really come to love,” he said.
Husband went on to say, “By the grace of God (or whatever your higher power-or luck) my baby is 100% fine. She’s beautiful and smart and athletic. She is one of the 5%. I did not earn that. I didn’t get that outcome because I’m so good. It was grace. I wake up every morning full of gratitude for that. I sometimes look at her and laugh out loud with joy. We are so fortunate. Chera doesn’t need me to push her. She can run on her own.”
It was just about a year ago when Husband decided he wanted to do something charitable. Husband quoted the phrase, “To whom much is given much is required.” “That’s me, given much and need [sic] to try and give back. I thought that I might as well do something I enjoy anyway. So, I approached the people at the Alden Road School for Exceptional Children about pairing runners with kids in wheelchairs. That’s how I met Amanda. Amanda has a progressive form of ataxia. She was diagnosed at around four. So, all seemed well until then. From that point forward she has continued to progress through the disease–it gets worse all the time. Most people with this genetic disorder don’t live past their early twenties. I started pushing her in races and quickly realized that, just like Dick Hoyt, she is 100% there mentally. She’s a normal young woman trapped in a slowly degenerating body. We’ve since done a dozen races or so, and she is my hero. You never know where life’s journeys will take you. But, I’ve learned that you’re often surprised by where you end up. I thought I was doing something ‘nice’ for her. It turns out the biggest rewards have been mine. I think it was our third race…she cheered and pushed me to go faster…I drove home that day with this overwhelming sense of shame or embarrassment (those aren’t really the right words). I’ve been given so much, and she has been dealt this hand and yet she lives every moment to the fullest and is truly happy. She’s my inspiration,” Husband concluded.
When I asked Husband why he was doing this, his answer was “because I can.” Husband also said, “We have other kids that want to be pushed too. It’s very informal and is done on a case-by-case basis.” So, if there are any students who are interested in helping others–like Husband has with Amanda–then please feel free to contact Dr. Husband and he will pair you with an athlete to push. The volunteer generally pays the registration fee for their athlete; however, Husband said he could help with that if necessary. Husband’s office is at Kent campus, room E0239 and can be reached by email at email@example.com
Check back for our Professor Spotlight series featuring Dr. Joseph (Dan) Husband.