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Never Say Never
Liza Patchel has grown used to being told of the many things she will never do. Diagnosed with cerebral palsy as an infant, doctors said she would never speak or walk. When she enrolled in public school, administrators said she would never play for their sports teams. Even as she studied her way to good grades, "experts" told Liza that she would never go to college.
Now 23, Liza clearly enjoys proving people wrong, relishing opportunities to tell her story in the slow, but painstakingly clear, speech that many doubted she would ever develop.
In her career at Kent Island High School on Maryland's Eastern Shore, Liza performed in the senior play, wrote for the school newspaper, "danced" at prom, cheered at football games, joined the power lifting team and graduated as a member of the National Honor Society. "Being the only physically disabled student at the school was very, very hard, but I overcame it," says Liza.
Liza credits the 16 years she spent in Kennedy Krieger Institute's schools prior to attending public school with providing the foundation that helped her thrive. "At Kennedy Krieger, they told me that I was just like everyone else and taught me to have high self-esteem," she says.
Liza also worked with a team of Kennedy Krieger doctors, clinicians and therapists who taught her how to move in and out of her wheelchair, dress herself, walk with an assistive device and even play fetch with her dog.
"She's a great role model for younger patients with her self-motivation and accomplishments," says Dr. Charles Silberstein, who has treated Liza at Kennedy Krieger since she was 5 years old.
Today, Liza is a sophomore at Chesapeake College, where a 3.7 GPA earned her a nomination to the Phi Beta Kappa honor society and a spot on the All-Maryland Academic Team. Liza declined scholarship offers from Harvard, Texas A&M and Kenyon College, opting to finish her degree at Washington College in Chestertown, Md., where she can also pursue graduate studies in psychology. Liza plans to become a clinical psychologist with a special focus on helping children with traumatic brain injuries. In the meantime, she has her sights set on an internship at Kennedy Krieger.
Liza is quick to recognize her mother, Sue Patchel, as the unsung hero in her story. "Even at times when I was feeling down about myself, she gave me tough love," states Liza.
Patchel's "no-pity" approach to parenting spurred Liza's love of helping the less fortunate, whether feeding the homeless on Thanksgiving or purchasing holiday gifts for needy children.
When other parents ask how the two remain strong and positive, Patchel says, "You can sit down and get angry at the hand you were dealt, or you can move past it and dance we just choose to dance."