“I feel like if I did not have CP, I would have a much different outlook on life – one that takes things for granted. "
10 weeks ago, if you were to walk the rehab floor of Nemours A.I duPont Hospital for Children, you most likely would have been greeted with a smile if you stopped by Room 1. 21-year-old, Ryan Fink was Room 1’s resident and he just might have been the friendliest patient on the floor. The Florida native became an example to everyone of how to make the best of every situation as he handed cards to everyone he met with his name and contact info so he wouldn’t lose touch with anyone he met when it was time to head back home to Florida.
Diagnosed with Diplegic Cerebral Palsy (CP), Ryan walks with two canes and has experienced many physical difficulties, specifically in his legs and with mobility. Because of this, he is no stranger to hospitals, surgeries and physical and occupational therapy. Growing up the majority of his life in Vero Beach, Florida, Ryan found himself in Wilmington, Delaware this summer seeking the best treatment for his long term physical situation. This wasn’t his first time in Wilmington though. Ryan found Dr. Miller years ago and had trusted him in various orthopedic surgeries already. So, when Ryan and his family came to the decision to go for his 11th surgery, Delaware seemed like the best option.
“[It’s] a lot. Having to go through constant setbacks is a pain. No pun intended.” Fink joked, referring to what it has been like for him going through multiple surgeries throughout his life. “However,” he continued, “if they will improve the quality of my life and improve my gait, it’s well worth it.”
Living with CP obviously isn’t easy. Ryan recalled that growing up, the hardest thing for him was not being able to play with other kids.
“I remember on the playground [in elementary school], I would play tag with friends around [a covered] pavilion area. Normally, kids weren’t allowed to play under there but because concrete was easier for me to move my walker and canes on [I was allowed to play under there]. Eventually, kids would come up to the pavilion and would ask a teacher who was nearby if they could play under it. ‘Only if you’re playing with Ryan,’ they would say. Still, I couldn’t play on a regular sports team, or move as fast as other kids my age.”
Ryan expressed how making friends has always been difficult. He believes that often he gets stereotyped because of his canes and the way he walks. But in high school, something meaningful happened to Ryan that he will never forget. His senior year, Ryan’s classmates voted him Homecoming King.
“That was one of the highlights of my life. I was so nervous about entering high school, but I soon learned I didn’t have anything to worry about.” Fink said, “Everyone treated me with kindness and I was not picked on or bullied at all. I had no idea that I was that well-known to my graduating class until I found out students were voting for me [as] their Homecoming King. After I won, I was talking to my good friend, Lily Andrea, about how I managed to win. I said it was because I was on a walker. Students saw the walker around campus, knew who I was and voted for me. ‘It wasn’t the walker,’ she said. She meant that it was because of my kind and caring personality.”
Ryan reflected on how his mom was the one to escort him down the field that special night, “It was an honor to have her by my side.” Fink shared that his mother is in fact his biggest supporter and role model.
“She’s always been there for me. Whether I’m anxious, afraid or happy. I can talk to her about anything, and she gladly listens. As far as helping me physically, she helps me the most with laundry, carrying a heavy dinner plate and bringing me to appointments. I thank God that I have such a caring individual by my side. She is my best friend.”
With the support of his mother and the rest of his family, Ryan has been able to make huge strides. In high school, he was involved in theatre, he currently sings in a barbershop quartet and plays the piano. He has learned to drive a car with adaptive hand controls and attends college. Ryan attends Florida Institute of Technology and has big plans for his future.
“I would like to have a family [one day]. As far as [my] career, it is my dream [to] become a physician. If this is not what is meant to be, I will enter the finance industry with my accounting degree. Whether it be medically or financially, I would like to have a career in which I can help others.”
Ryan has never let CP’s effects on his life hinder his positive outlook on life. He believes CP has allowed him to have a better understanding of what life is truly about.
“I believe I have a better understanding of what life is about – specifically, being thankful for the gifts God has given us and not taking anything for granted. We live in such a fast-moving, instant gratification society that needs to sit back and look at the big picture – to realize that no matter how bad things get, they could always be a lot worse.”
Ryan wishes more people would see what he can do rather than what he can’t do when they encounter him and see his disability. But all in all, he wouldn’t change having CP if he could.
“I feel like if I did not have CP, I would have a much different outlook on life – one that takes things for granted. Also, I feel that I would not have as much of an impact on the lives of others if I did not. Being different is good.”
Ultimately, Ryan feels like his canes and his CP are a part of him and he wouldn’t be the person he is without them. Just like when he wheeled the halls of that hospital this summer greeting everyone with a smile, Ryan continues to live a life of joy, perseverance and hope. Despite his physical challenges and all life throws at him, he will continue to stare CP in face, conquer it and live his life out to the fullest.