Imagine being six years old and waking up not able to walk. This is what happened to Beverly McEwan, a teacher at David Thompson Secondary School. Beverly very clearly remembers being six years old and going to bed one night feeling perfectly fine, and then waking up the next morning unable to walk. She had developed temporary paralysis as a result of contracting Rheumatic fever, an inflammatory disease that develops after an infection that affects the heart, joints, skin and brain.
“It was quite the shock, especially for a little girl,” Bev reflected.
It was that one night that changed everything for little Beverly and her family. Bev was hospitalized at first and then in a wheelchair after that.
She was immobile only for a little while and then gradually began relearning how to walk. When she started out, she had a very odd gait. It was a struggle for her to walk again and it felt different.
“I felt lucky, and I felt scared; lucky that I didn’t have to be carried or wheeled around anymore, but scared because it wasn’t how I used to be,” said Bev. “It was difficult.”
She couldn’t do any of the activities she used to enjoy and looking a little different made Beverly stand out in class.
On top of her struggles with walking, Beverly also had what the doctors thought was a serious heart defect, which left her feeling extremely tired. Her teachers at school were instructed to keep her from doing physical activities so she wouldn’t get sick. She also had to take naps at lunch, so she wouldn’t get too fatigued.
“I wasn’t very sociable and when you’re a kid, that really stands out,” said Bev. “For the children, it was as if I had become a different person, and for me it had felt like I was another person. My world had changed.”
Beverly didn’t like all the new attention due to her being different. In order to get less attention, Bev stopped talking in class. She figured that if she didn’t talk to people, nobody would notice she was different. She was wrong though. She got noticed even more when she stopped talking. Her teacher noticed, and one day made a phone call to Bev’s parents, telling them she wasn’t talking in class.
When her parents got the news, they took her straight to the doctor. They were getting scared as they began to realize their little girl was becoming quite different. The doctor told them to take Bev to speech lessons, which were called allocution lessons in those days. Bev started seeing a speech therapist and stayed in speech therapy until she was seven years old.
As she went to more and more lessons, she started to feel comfortable talking to her therapist, and later on to her peers. Bev began to learn that she didn’t have to physically stand up to be able to stand up for herself. She just had to be able to talk. She developed a passion for the art of speech, and when she grew to be an adult, she studied it.
When she became a high school teacher, Bev used her knowledge about speech to her advantage when she began teaching students how to debate. It was important for her to teach kids to stand up for themselves.
“In class, some of my students were afraid of public speaking,” Bev said. “They would tell me that I had no idea how hard it was for them. I would say, ‘Oh, yes I do. Let me tell you why.’”
Beverly still uses her childhood experience to help kids be the best they can be.
When asked how she sees other children with diverseabilities, Bev replied: “as themselves… as themselves, but that’s because I wanted that too.”
Her advice to children overcoming obstacles is to keep trying and to ask for help.
“I think that our life experiences colour our actions,” said Bev. “I think the only way I am the way I am is because when I woke up one morning when I was six years old, I couldn’t walk.”
Kate Gibbs is a David Thompson Secondary School student writing for The Valley Echo.