Welcome to my page. My name is Minna , and I'm eighteen years-old.  If you look at my picture carefully, you'll notice that I'm sitting in a wheelchair. Now these wheels do make it possible for me to get around, but what they don't do is make me terribly different from other teenagers you might know. For instance, they don't stop me from being on the Student Council, and they sure helped me get recognized as "Athlete of the Year" at my school. I compete in field events, skiing, basketball, handball and swimming, and, ta da, I won a ton of gold medals when I went to Des Moines, Iowa for the Special Olympics in June.  I try not to let anything get in my way, even though I can't walk or do some things for myself. I'm really proud of that, and I guess I should thank my special needs dog, Lucy, for her help in making me as independent as possible. She's an eight years old black lab. You would adore her!

I love using the computer, meeting new friends, going shopping, and needless to say, sports.  I love chocolate, too (which is why my page looks like there's a Hershey bar on the side of it). Last July I went to Hershey Park in Pennsylvania when my mom and my younger sister went to Finland, where my mom and dad grew up. My older sister told me that I was going somewhere, but that the somewhere would be a suprise. Once we were on our way, just driving along, I saw "Hershey this way" on a sign and  I screamed. It was just so cool. If you were at the Hershey Hotel the same time we were, you would have noticed me with a huge smile on my face.

I have 3 sisters, Suvi 15, Maiju 23,and Miia 27.  My family comes from Finland and we all have blond hair and blue eyes. Everyone says I look like my dad. First let me tell you about Suvi. She's the best sister because when my mom leaves she helps me around the house and does my hair. Maiju is married, and is always there encouraging me when I cannot face the day. She has a three-old-boy named Christian who is nuts about me. Miia's married too, and has a little girl named Siira. My mom is the most important person in my life. She helps me when I'm in pain or need a shower or things like that, and she's always there when I just want to talk. Here's why I need such a supportive family:

When I was born, it seemed that my brain wasn't doing a very good job of connecting all the parts of my body, so at six-months, off I went with my mom to a bunch of doctors. They told us that I had an illness, but that they didn't know what it was. What an eye doctor was able to diagnose was amblyopia, or 'lazy eye' (sort of an odd name, because I don't think my eyes are lazy at all). When I was five years-old, I saw an orthopedic doctor who told me that I should have surgery on my legs. And so I did, an eight hour long operation and a body cast ...oh, and  another operation that followed that one. Now here's the clincher. I was standing up in my cast (with help, of course), and as I reached for a cookie that my sister was holding, down I went and broke my leg (even though I had a cast that I think should have protected it!) 

When I try to walk, my legs stop me because that's when they want to spasm. I say that’s not fair because I want to walk.  I take lots of medicines for these spasms in my muscles. They drive me crazy, but that doesn't stop me at all. You can't give up in life just because you have a disability, an illness like cancer...or whatever. The school I go to is for the physical challenged.  I live there from Sundays through Thursdays in one of five cottages. I'm at Ross  cottage this year, which is the best because we can do our own thing. On campus we have a barn track gym. We have a place called SILE where a person works on becoming independent.  When  I'm there I cook, plan trips to the mall, practice food shopping and things like that. 

My dad died December of 1999 from colon cancer. He was such a great Dad, and he made a powerful impact on my life. I believe that he's happy in heaven right now, watching over me and encouraging me in every step I take. Even though the doctors have told me that I might never learn just what my disability is all about, I think my dad helped me to have the sort of  attitude that makes me believe I can do a lot when I put my mind to it. He would tell me that even though difficult things have happened to me, I have a life to lead, and that I have to go forward, not backward. For instance, when I finish school, I want to become a poet.  I write lots of poetry, and have a poetry folder filled with my dad’s  poems, life poems, love poems, friendship poems, and family poems. If you'd like to read some of it, just send me a note. In the meantime, thanks for taking the time to read my story!

During the  summer, I had to use a power  chair that I controlled with my head because my arms are getting too weak to be able to push the chair. The back of my head controls everything. It's really amazing! I had a special head rest made, with one side to the right, one to the left and one in the middle, all connected to a computer. The computer scans the letters A-Z, with some sections programmed with, for example,  my friends names. I'm a crazy driver because I'm new at it, but I'll get better once I get more driving experience. Like any power chair,  it's hard at first but once I  get use to it, will I ever be flying around, and you'd better believe that I'll be back to racing with my friends at school.

Here's some sad and then some happy news: My special dog Lucy died on Thursday September 21 from cancer. Did you know that dogs can get cancer, too? Now I have a lap dog named Choco, who loves me a lot. Of course that goes two ways, because I think she's pretty great, too. She's small enough to sleep in my bed, and I wasn't used to that. The first night I said "Choco, off my bed". When she didn't get off, I decided to let her sleep on it anyway. When my mom came and woke us up, Choco was asleep on my chest with her paws around my neck and her head on her paw. When I'm having a muscle spasm, we taught her to go and get my mom. That's how smart she is!

Minna with her best friend Kelly
Here I am with my best friend Kelly!

October 5, 2005 

Boy, does time ever fly! I'm 22-years-old now, going to college, and am engaged to be married. Too cool! That's the good news; now for some that's not  so good. Almost a year ago I needed to have a colostomy. Do you know what that is? You know how your GI tract is supposed to work...food goes into your mouth, down your esophagus, into your stomach, and then through a long scrunched up tube called the  intestines where absorption takes place and then, finally, out the anus, the trap door that opens, generally when you sit on the toilet to let the waste materials continue their travels down the sewer. That's how it's supposed to me. In my case, the food just stopped en route, and I was quite uncomfortable. Come to find out, the only thing that would help is this colostomy, where the upper part of the intestines, the colon, is separated from the bottom part and brought to the outside. Sort of a shorthand route to the sewer. Though I must say I feel a lot better now, it is not an easy thing to get used to. Sometimes it leaks, but I deal with it. I belong to an ostomy group that has been a lifesaver. For instance, when I'm not having a good day, the people on the group know just what I'm going through. I certainly do "get by with a little help from my friends!"

OK, to conclude, I love chocolate and I just hate it when people talk to me as if I were 5 when I'm 22. Wouldn't you? Thanks for visiting my page! Minna

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Joan Fleitas, Ed.D., R.N.
Associate Professor of Nursing, Lehman College, CUNY
Bronx, New York 10468  

 Last updated: October 6, 2005