Rutgers Student Refuses To Let Disability Get In His Way

Matt Valentine imageMathew Valentine is in his junior year here at Rutgers University. He graciously agreed to find time in his impressively busy schedule to sit down for an interview with the Office of Disability Services.

Matthew’s story, like most, began at birth. Although in Matthew’s case, the world welcomed him at 27 weeks - three months premature and weighing just slightly over a pound. He was diagnosed with cerebral palsy (CP) when about three months old, and has since undergone almost twenty surgeries. The muscles in his lower limbs are most affected. Matthew explained that those muscles are in a constant state of contraction and don’t generally relax. He described having cerebral palsy as a ‘pretty big’ part of his life, with an infectious smile.

Matthew moved to New Jersey when he was seven years old, shortly after one of his surgeries. He feels that his primary educational experience may have been better than average, because he went to school with the same kids from grade school through high school. Matthew was happy his high school was small.

Matthew recalls leaving class early with a friend and racing down the hallway in wheel chairs to get to the lunchroom. His favorite activity growing up was an adaptive form of hockey for children with disabilities, which he played up until he started college. Matthew explained, “It was nice because I connected with people who knew exactly what I was going through.”

EMT logoBecoming an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) was Matthew’s biggest achievement, due to the physical demands of the position. He was motivated to become an EMT in part because he could gain valuable healthcare experience while helping people. Matthew was just as doubtful as others in his ability to pass the test, but he thoroughly enjoyed proving them wrong. He explains that having CP has never stopped him from providing quality patient care, and he is currently training to become an ambulance driver.

Matthew explained that his decision to come to Rutgers was a no-brainer. He chose Rutgers specifically for the accessibility to disability services. He maintains that it has made all the difference in how easily he adjusted to the college lifestyle. Matthew says there have been countless opportunities and doors opened just by being a Rutgers student due to the countless courses, affiliations, and options. He loves that his disability services coordinator knows him by name, met with him before he began, and is always available when he needs anything. Matthew remarked, “It’s easy to use my accommodations, because everything is online! It’s so great.”

Matthew is majoring in Public Health with a minor in Psychology and is planning to apply to Physician Assistant (PA) school at the end of the month. He came to Rutgers wanting to be a doctor, but found PA to be a better fit. For several months Matthew shadowed physician assistants from the orthopedic unit that treated him for many years, to learn about the role. He described an incident in which a mother of a son with CP saw Matthew in the unit during training and was so filled with hope for her son that she began to cry.

Matthew is a member of a Facebook group for people with CP and addresses questions and concerns when he can. Matthew is also president and founder of a pre-med club for subsets of the pre-med community, mostly physician assistants and physical therapists.

When asked what advice Matthew could offer to people with CP, a disability, or anyone who hasn’t embraced their individuality, he replied, “You need to get involved, don’t just sit in your room and say, ‘I’m bored’ or ‘There’s nothing for me.’ Get out there! Go join a club! Or be like me and make a club! Four years ago, I would have asked to do this interview over email. Getting involved has helped me break out so much; I’ll talk to you about anything! You just have to force yourself that one time and then once you get over that hump it’s so much easier.”

To say that meeting Matthew is an inspiration is nothing short of an understatement.