“My own miracle”

By Michael Townsend, Habitat for Humanity of the Chesapeake homeowner

As we enter the Advent season and prepare for the miracle of Christmas, I would like to share the story of my own miracle. Many people take their homes for granted, but, for me, it truly represents a miraculous expression of God’s love and grace.

At the age of 7, I was diagnosed with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, a degenerative neuromuscular disorder. My family was told that I would probably not live beyond my teenage years. Despite the grim prognosis, I was determined to beat the odds.

By the time I graduated from high school, I was fully dependent on a power wheelchair. I enrolled in a local college and loved the feeling of independence. I continued living at home with my parents, who were my primary caregivers. During this time, my neuromuscular disease progressed, and I lost the use of my arms, as well as the ability to breathe independently.

Eventually, the burden of my disease became too much, and I was unable to remain at home. I discovered that there are few options for people with my level of disability; I could either learn to manage my care or face life in a nursing home. At the age of 37, I moved in to my own apartment with the assistance of professional caregivers.

It was a challenge to manage independent living, but I also found that I could do more than I ever dreamed possible. I obtained my first job as a writer, became a lobbyist with a nonprofit that seeks effective treatments for muscular dystrophy and became active in my Catholic parish. I was also joined by Kathy, a service monkey from Helping Hands Monkey Helpers for the Disabled.

Although my single-bedroom apartment met my most basic requirements, I quickly outgrew the small living space. I was able to navigate the rooms only after all the internal doors were removed. Even then, the bathroom remained inaccessible. There was little space for my medical equipment and supplies, and my caregivers often slept on an air mattress on my living room floor. Rent was expensive, and my resources are limited.

After several years of struggling with this arrangement, I began to dream of owning a home that I could adapt to meet my complex needs. As I began to research the possibility, I learned that people with significant disabilities have unique challenges in terms of becoming homeowners. There are very few accessible homes available in the greater Baltimore area. I applied to Habitat for Humanity of the Chesapeake and was very excited when I was invited to become a partner family. I spent the following year fulfilling Habitat’s educational and sweat equity requirements.

Thanks to Habitat, just over a month ago I officially became a homeowner. I have spent the past several weeks getting settled into my new home and neighborhood. My home is fully accessible and even has a generator that will sustain my ventilator and other medical equipment in the event of a power outage. I am now able to do small things that most people take for granted. For example, an electronic door opener allows me to independently enter or exit my home — something that I have not been able to physically accomplish in more than three decades.

My home is a blessing. It allows me to continue defying the odds against Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. Being able to actively engage in life despite the overwhelming challenges of chronic illness and disability is a miracle. In this season of miracles, my home is certainly a reason to celebrate!