Rebuilding lives after spinal cord injury.

Journey to a Beautiful Dream

My Relentless Journey Towards a Beautiful Dream

as told by Farzana Ali

Is my chair tilted back too much?
I need to sit up straight, so that I will look less paralyzed.
Oh, I should stop moving my hands so much, it will draw more attention to their limitations.

Those were the thoughts going through my head as I was sitting in front of the Associate Dean for Medical Education and Admissions in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences for my interview at the University at Buffalo. I should have been more worried about responding to the ethical questions that throws off most interviewees. But unfortunately, I could not stop thinking about my disability, because that is what most people usually mentioned when they heard about my dream of becoming a doctor. They questioned how I would do the long hours of clinical rotations. They questioned how I would perform tasks that require fine motor skills from a physician. But the question I got from this interviewer was different from what I have experienced in other conversations regarding medical school admissions. He asked me:

“What can I do to help you succeed in our medical school?”.

It was a question that did not intend to scrutinize my disability, rather it gave me the opportunity to sincerely discuss my physical limitations and the accommodations I may need in medical school. He told me about another student who had a similar level of injury, and recently graduated with a doctorate in medicine. The open and honest conversations during that interview made it one of the most memorable experiences of my life. At that point, I felt like I did not care whether I got into medical school or not, even though that had been my biggest dream since childhood. I was happy and content to have had the opportunity to share my passion for the medical profession with someone who truly listened to what I wanted to say.

That was a day I could not have imagined eleven years ago when I found myself lying on a hospital bed in Mount Sinai hospital. I tried but could not remember what brought me to that place. I did not know why my arms and legs were not moving when I tried to get up from the bed, or why no sound came out of my mouth when I tried to speak. The presence of many unknown faces surrounding me confused me even more. Gradually, I learned that I had severely injured my neck and paralyzed one of my vocal cords in a car crash after being hit by a drunk driver. I had suffered a spinal cord injury, a type of injury I had never heard of until the day I experienced it myself. But even more painful to me was the absence of the two people I love the most when I needed them the most, my mom and my sister, the only sibling I had. It took me months to discover that my mom had suffered severe head and leg injuries, and my sister could not survive the accident. All I wanted after my injury was to go back to my family, without knowing that it had been broken apart already.

“I did not let it crush my spirit.”

I had no control over the damage that injury caused to my body and my life, but I did not let it crush my spirit. My love for education and the medical profession was still alive in my heart, and that motivated me to push myself every day to work harder and get stronger, so that I could resume my studies as soon as possible. A major part of my journey towards recovery and academic accomplishments consists of individuals who continually encouraged me in the pursuit of my dreams, regardless of my limitations. It was their love and support that gave me strength to overcome the obstacles in front of me. We all have these people in life that stay by our side not only when we rise, but even when we fall and fail miserably. It is important to keep these bonds strong, because even after reaching the highest peak of success, we will feel lonely if we do not have anyone by our side to celebrate with.

After going back to college on a motorized wheelchair with nonfunctioning hands, I did not know what I would be capable of achieving academically. I did not know if I could ever enter the medical profession with such limited abilities. But I was always aware of my passion for medicine, and all the work I did related to healthcare, through volunteering, research, shadowing and studying, showed me what true happiness feels like. If I could give you one piece of advice from my experience, it would be that you should never change your goal because it seems difficult at present, or because other people told you so. Disability may impose many difficulties in our daily lives, but that ultimately makes us stronger and more skilled to solve problems efficiently. We should not focus so much on the little inconveniences that they take our mind away from the bigger things in life, things that we are truly passionate about. With patience and perseverance, we can solve any problem and achieve any dream. That is the ultimate lesson I learned from living with a disability for the past eleven years.

“I am ready for whatever life throws at me. Because I am a survivor, a spinal cord injury survivor!”

The news came in a week after the interview. “You have been accepted to the University at Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences for the Fall 2016 Freshman Medical Class. Congratulations!.” I did not know how to respond to that news. But my eyes could not hold back the tears I had been hiding for so many years. Only this time, it was tears of joy. Here starts another journey towards unforeseen obstacles and surprising accomplishments, but I am ready for whatever life throws at me. Because I am a survivor, a spinal cord injury survivor!


Farzana was able to attend Empower SCI rehab camp through a grant from NYCSCIA.  This life changing experience helped give her confidence and put her on the path to medical school.  To find out more about NYCSCIA Grants and how we help people with spinal cord injuries maximize their independence, click here.

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