Paul Chiou

Attending USC School of Viterbi Engineering Ph.D. Program

I was born and raised in Taiwan. When I was 11 years old, my grandparents brought me to the United States, wanting me to have the best education possible. My life took a dramatic on the homecoming day of my sophomore year. I rode my bicycle to the football game. At the end of the game, I got on my bike to ride home. Then a car hit me. Hard. I was trajected for over 20 feet and landed on my head. My neck was broken, along with my cervical spinal cord. The accident left me paralyzed from the neck down, but first, it almost killed me. I spent almost month on full life support at LAC-USC and then was transferred to Rancho Los Amigos for rehabilitation.

I was fifteen years old and stuck in bed, confused and frightened. I was glad to be alive but worried about what would become of me. However, at rancho, I felt welcomed by the genuine people who truly cared about the disabled. I was only beginning to understand the real meaning of the word “disability.”

Rancho was like a second home to me. It accepted me during the darkest days of my life. Moreover, it mentally shaped me into an independent person. I learned how to adapt to my new life as a quadratic. I made new friends that are in similar situations as me, friends with awesome personalities despite their disabilities. There were no barriers between any one of us.

My Physical Therapists Oliver De La Paz and Jan Furumasu taught me how to drive and maneuver an electronic wheelchair with my chin. My Occupational Therapists Jennifer Bashar and Dina Ochoa taught me how to utilize different types of mouth sticks to accommodate my physical limitations, and most importantly, I gained the skill to paint using a mouth stick. I quickly became proficient in Mouth Painting and constructed a painting for the pediatric ward. Mouth Painting was an essential part of the adaptation to my disability thanks to the inspirations from the many mouth artists legends at Rancho.

Perhaps the most interesting therapist, was my Recreational Therapist Julie Helgren. Julie has a unique personality that would uplift everyone around her. Julie has given me a life as a teenager which I would have missed otherwise. She often took us out on outings to the Stonewood Mall to shop. She treated us as normal kids, took us to watch scary movies, and would be the one that screamed the loudest. Every week, she brought delicious junk food for us as we hangout to play dominos together. She even took us to Disneyland and carried me onto rides such as Splash Mountain, Tea Cups, etc. I am fortunate to be able to still enjoy all these fun activities not to mention I am someone paralyzed from the neck down.
Everyone at Rancho is family to me. They are the basis of my solid foundation in facing hardships. The eight months I spent at Rancho was one of the best, and most unforgettable times of my life.

After being discharged from Rancho, I returned home and continued my education. At first, it was not easy to return to a familiar environment in a completely different perspective. People felt awkward and uneasy when they approached me. My disability kept people away from me. However, Rancho has prepared me well in facing these challenges in advance, making adapting life in the real world easy. This allowed me to fully concentrate on school. I learned from Julie to always wear a smile on my face as I approach others. Rancho has made me stronger as a person.

Over the years, my dear therapists have remained in contact with me. They invited me to the annual Pediatric Carnival, Spinal Cord Injury Games, even Christmas parties at my favorite restaurant Marisa’s. I can keep going strong at school, advancing my education because I know my comrades will always be there for me to have my back.

Even as an outpatient, Rancho has always been there for me to support me. BJ Sena, my long-wished Speech Therapist (I wasn’t qualified for SP when I was at Rancho) nominated me as one of Las Florista’s scholars. This wonderful organization full of wonderful, caring people has paid for my textbooks and school supplies. Every year, Grandma and I are invited to their annual scholarship dinner. Kindness acts like this is the main driving force for me and Grandma because their recognition gave us courage to keep going through daily challenges. Today, I long for success for them as much as for myself because they all believed in me. I will not let them down.

It might sound like a cliché to tell people who suffered traumatic injuries things like “not to give up”, “nothing is impossible”, or “you are able to achieve anything you wish in life”, etc. I must be realistic, things are easier said than done. I can’t undermine anyone’s hardship.

One advice I have for my dear fellow injured Rancho friends is explained as Rihanna’s lyric “shine bright like a diamond”. I believe handicap people like us can be more extradentary and to make an impact in this world. Personally, I am blessed to have my unwavering, steadfast Grandma who never ceased to be by my side. She helps me to go to every single class, every single year. More than anyone, she has given me this opportunity. However, I understand many people lack the support. I would just like for them to remain happy and stay positive. Because when one is happy, good things will come to them. In addition, I would like them to find every opportunity to be grateful to the people around them. Gratitude can make the people around feel appreciated. This feels good. Wouldn’t every human being like to feel good? (it goes both ways). We can all be like Julie, that we brighten up the room when we enter. We don’t need to change the world to be impactful. Doing every little thing we CAN do every day can be just as effective.

Our life is indeed a tough life, but for those who are fortune enough to have support, don’t take it for granted. Endeavor to become successful with your passion and remember to pass on the blessings to help the ones in need, that are less fortunate. Be thankful, make the best out of our misfortune. We are all MVPs! (Praise the Lord)