Never Give Up: Meet Monica Mazique Smith

Meet  Monica Mazique Smith: A 40 year old  African-American with a physical disability  (Congenital Hypotonia, a form of Muscular Dystrophy) which requires her to use a power wheelchair.

 May you be blessed as you read her personal testimony of faith, determination and never, ever giving up.


Monica’s Story

I was born on May 14, 1972 on Mother’s Day in Battle Creek, MI.  I am the youngest of five children. My mother was on her way to a  Mother’s  Day dinner with the family when she suddenly went into labor with me. After being in severe pain at the hospital she told the doctor that she was about to deliver. The doctor responded by telling her she had plenty of time before she would deliver. The doctor vanished to assist a young girl who was also in labor when my mother was ready to deliver I started coming out.  Everyone started calling for the doctor, but no one could find him.  As I was coming out, I turned around inside my mother.  The nurse didn’t know how to turn me around the correct way so I ended up coming out “butt” first.  I was born breeched and had  to be rushed into an incubator because I could not breathe on my own. It took me several months to learn how to breathe on my own.  When I was ready to go home, the hospital tried to convince my mother to place me in a home for the “handicapped” (1970’s language).  She told everyone “No!”, including my father,and that  she was taking her baby home. The doctors said that I was going to be nothing but a “living vegetable.”

My mother never stopped working with me.  She would place me in front of the television, even though my eyes would not motivate. She would put toys in my hands, even though I did not have enough muscle strength to hold them.  As a baby, I didn’t have enough muscle strength to suck from a bottle, so an elderly German woman brought my mother a lamb’s nipple which required little strength to suck from and that is how I was able to suck.  But even after all of that I was still not moving or responding.  One day, my mother cried out to God and asked Him to please give her a sign to show her that she was not doing all of this in vain.  All of a sudden, she felt something cold and clammy slap her in the face.  It was my little hand that had made its way up her face.  It was the first time that I had ever moved.  My mother was so excited that she jumped off the bed almost knocking me over, screaming my father’s name.  “Fred, Fred!”  The baby moved!”

Years passed.  I had several obstacles.  I acquired an upper-respiratory breathing problem.  My muscles were too weak for me to walk, so I ended up being in a wheelchair.  My chest began caving in, so I had to have surgery when I was about three years old to have my chest uplifted off my heart, lungs, and spine.  I later had a muscle taken out of each of my legs so that doctors could do a muscle biopsy on them.  Doctors determined that my muscles grow stronger, not weaker over time.

In school, I was a straight “A” student all the way through elementary to high school.  Throughout my years in school, I was harassed and teased.  I had no friends, never went to school dances, and was never asked out on dates.  I constantly kept my head held high and graduated from high school, earning a scholarship from the Springfield Lion’s Club.  Teachers told me that I would never make it going to a big university and that I needed to go to a small community college, so I began attending Kellogg Community College.  I soon became bored there, so me, my mother, and my father moved to Carbondale, IL where I began attending Southern Illinois University, which had a student population of over 26, 000.  I majored in Psychology there.  My mother and father would drop me off to class and then would go home.  On Thursday, February 27, 1992 about 4:30 PM, my mother and a lady came to my algebra class.  My mother was crying.  When she had gone back to the van to ride home with my father, she had found him slumped over the steering wheel and he was not breathing.  Apparently, my father had a massive heart attack and died. I immediately began crying hysterically.  That was one of the worst days of my life. My mother and I continued the dream of my father.  We wanted to be closer to family and familiar faces, so we moved back home to Battle Creek, MI.

I began attending the extension site in Battle Creek for Western Michigan University.  On April 22, 1995, I earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Applied Liberal Studies.  I was honored at my graduation ceremony by the president of the university.  I was also interviewed by the local newspaper, “Battle Creek Enquirer.”  I didn’t stop there.  I continued for a Master of Arts degree in Public Administration.  I also completed two internships for two human service agencies.  On April 25, 1998, I acquired my Master of Arts degree in Public Administration.  Again, I completed a milestone that others said that I could not possibly do.

On February 24, 2000, I was appointed by our former governor, Gov. John Engler to serve a two-year term on the Michigan Developmental Disabilities Council as a council member and advocate.   I also ran for county commissioner that same year.  The primary election was Tuesday August 8, 2000.  Even though I did not win, I acquired new friends and great contacts. During that time,  I founded a local nonprofit organization in Battle Creek, Michigan called “Transportation Impaired, Inc.”  “Transportation Impaired, Inc.” was founded because I am deeply concerned about the lack of  transportationfor people with disabilities.  “Transportation Impaired, Inc.”  was a 24-hour, 7 days a week private paratransit service which provided door-to-door, curb side transportation for persons with disabilities, senior citizens, and also those with low income throughout the Calhoun county area..  I acted as president and CEO of the organization until May 29, 2002, at which time; it was closed due to lack of funding and volunteers.   For my efforts, I was honored in April, 2002 with the 2001 “George” award given annually by the Battle Creek Enquirer for being an outstanding citizen and showing community leadership.

In January, 2010 I had the biggest scare of my life.  I had been suffering with a chronic cough for over a year that had begun occurring only when I lay down at night.  I kept complaining to my doctor about it, but he just said that it was a chronic sinus problem and prescribed nasal sprays.  The coughing got worse and when I went in to see the doctor about it, he checked my oxygen level and it was down to 70.  The doctor told my mother and brother to drive me as fast as they could to the hospital.  It turned out that I had pneumonia.  I was admitted into the hospital for overnight observation but I wound up on life support and a feeding tube for a month.  Apparently according to my mother and brother, I was doing fine. I ate my dinner and was watching TV.  I complained about my stomach and one nurse gave me a shot for it.  About 10 minutes later another nurse came in and gave me another shot.  My mother told the second nurse that the first nurse had already given me a shot.  The nurse said that it was probably a different shot because the first nurse had not documented what shot had been previously given.  Well, when the nurses came to check on me around 4:00 AM, they woke my mother up and told her that I was not responding.  I couldn’t breathe on my own, I had to get a trach put in my throat, and I was on a ventilator.  It was a long, hard road but through the grace of God and lots of prayer I made it.  Since that time, I went through the graduation ceremony in May, 2010 and received a second master degree which is in Rehabilitation Counseling at Wayne State University in Detroit, MI.  I also passed the national certification exam and am now a Certified Rehabilitation Counselor.  I also recently applied to become a Limited Licensed Professional Counselor for the state of Michigan.

Earlier I stated that the death of my father was one of the worst days of my life, but THE worst day of my life occurred on June 28, 2012.  My mother died in our house on our living room floor.  She had been diagnosed in 2008 with breast cancer and had undergone 48 treatments of radiation using a new treatment called Tomotherapy.  After the 48 treatments, she was deemed cancer-free.  She remained on her medication, Arimidex and had tests every 6 months to ensure that the cancer hadn’t returned.  She had just received a good report in April, 2012.  All of a sudden one day, she began having an uncontrollable cough and shortness of breath.  She dealt with it for a while until she had almost passed out on June 1, 2012.  She asked my brother, Karlos to drive her to the emergency room at Beaumont hospital in Grosse Pointe, MI.  Although it’s almost 30 miles from Romulus, MI where we live, my mother liked that particular hospital.  Once she was at the hospital, they thought she might have had pneumonia or congestive heart failure.  After several tests, they detected a 6-centimeter cancerous mass on her lungs and suspected that the cancer might have been spreading into her bones.  Mom had Karmanos Cancer Center in Detroit, MI (the clinic who had been treating her breast cancer) to retest her as well as to give her additional testing.  Unfortunately, Mom died a day before she was to find out her results.  There had been a power outage that day and mom was using my oxygen concentrator whenever she had felt shortness of breath.  Once the power had gone out, Mom began using a new portable oxygen concentrator that my brother, Karlos had gone 1 ½ hours to Battle Creek, MI to pick up from my friend’s medical supply company.  Mom had been so happy that I had arranged for her to get the oxygen equipment.  She told me, “I’m so glad that God gave you to me”.  I smiled and told her, “I’m so glad that God gave you to me.  I don’t know where I would be without you”.  About an hour later, we sent Karlos to a restaurant down the road to get us some dinner.  After that it was like God had put me in a trance, I never heard my brother, Parrish and his wife from Battle Creek ring the doorbell nor did I see my mother walk with a flashlight to the front door.  But according to my brother, Mom answered the door, sat down in her reclining chair, and then collapsed.  It was really strange because right after that, the power came back on and I came out of my trance and heard screaming.  I was told to call 911 and that Mom wasn’t breathing.  By that time Karlos had come back and was doing CPR on her.  When the ambulance came, Mom had a slight pulse.  The paramedics tried reviving her for over an hour on our living room floor but couldn’t. My best friend. My partner in life was gone.

I feel lost without my mother but I know that she would want me to go on in life and be happy and to achieve my dreams.  With the assistance from my sister Sharon and my brother Karlos, I plan to do just that.

I’m telling everyone this story because I think that it can be a source of strength and hope for others to never give up.  No matter what obstacles and life challenges might come your way.  Never give up.

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