Profile in Accessibility
By Sally Swanson
All good stories have a beginning, a middle and an end. Sometimes, if the story is written by playwright Harold Pinter, for instance, it might proceed in reverse order just to keep one on their toes. No matter, I myself am completely smitten by any story in which a hero emerges in whatever form to rise above a seemingly insurmountable foe.
In the case of Christian Dillon, a young man whose story follows, I knew that – from our very first conversation in of all places, a neighborhood San Francisco yoga refuge – his life held every dramatic turn of events that would keep one thoroughly engrossed as his tale unfolds. Christian Dillon made a lasting impression on me. And now I’ll let him do the same for you…
“When I broke my foot in 1997 playing JV football for Lowell High School, life took a sharp and unexpected detour from the traditional (and safe) course I believed I was on. What happened next left me more broken than I could ever imagine. Feeling vulnerable, I was now tasked with learning to balance the weight of adolescence with a pair of crutches and uncomfortable plaster cast. And then, in quick succession I was jumped and robbed – three times in three weeks! Feeling helpless I developed a furious temper and in that confused and angry state I associated with members of various youth gangs where I was constantly exposed to criminal activity, and other temptations like smoking, drinking and graffiti. I left Lowell for a tough San Francisco high school, one that no longer exists, where I became involved with another young gang. Still, I knew right from wrong.
For a while, I disassociated myself from the scene; worked two jobs; attended community college, and moved back to my parents’ home. Getting my act together was compromised, though, as trouble continued to follow me: I was assaulted and struck in the head by a crow bar, and repeatedly kicked while I lay unconscious.
During the attack, I sustained a traumatic brain injury; was comatose for 22 days and paralyzed on the left side of my body. The doctors predicted I would never walk or talk again. To date, there have been 15 operations leaving me permanently disabled from a physical standpoint, as well as cognitive and hormonal. Three and a half years of intense rehabilitation played a critical role in my achieving optimal wellness. Through perseverance I unwittingly earned another chance at life and became dedicated to serving others who have faced life challenges.
First, I pursued an academic career different from my previous manual-labor occupations and returned to community college – being told that my abilities might only qualify me to become a clerk – where I completed remedial classes and a few towards my general education. I was encouraged by others to transfer to the University of San Francisco (USF), a private Jesuit college, and by the fall of 2001 was attending supported by scholarships which boosted my resolve.
I was hired as a student intern for the USF Wellness Program in tandem with my studies towards an Exercise and Sport Science degree. My passion for helping others was well received and I participated in community positions such as a Senator representing the Disabled Student Population and served on panels for the Student Health Education Program. Leading up to graduation, I became a Health Fitness Specialist in a Bay Area corporate fitness center. Working in both community and corporate arenas for five years and finding that those positions did not provide an upwardly mobile path (plus some changes in my medical status) I enrolled in a Graduate program at Cal State East Bay (CSUEB) for their Recreation Therapy (RT) Program. I recalled working with a RT at St. Mary’s Hospital during my outpatient rehabilitation (where I was later hired as a Physical Therapy Aide) and was inspired by him since he was wheelchair bound from spina bifida yet took patients to the Embarcadero YMCA to teach them how to exercise safely and effectively. I carried these new-found skills into my current career as I completed my Recreation Therapy Internship at the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center where I was hired as a full-time RT.
I have been very appreciative for the opportunity to serve our veterans as I identify with their challenges and provide services in a manner that complements their physical/mental impairments. For me, I continue to have chronic pain but I channel that into a positive methodology of support for others. Believe it or not, I would not change a thing about my life. I was spared for a reason: to be a catalyst for others to reach their true potential. My motto is: “Never, Never, Say Never! Use your heart and mind to believe in yourself no matter what the odds.”
*I must acknowledge the people who have wholeheartedly supported me throughout my recovery, Jeri & Patrick Dillon who always believed that I could live a meaningful, prosperous life. I am forever in their debt. I must also note my lovely wife, Gemma Dillon, who came into my life in 2002 following her diagnosis of Meningioma (brain tumor) and is a survivor of two brain operations herself. She loves me because I am a good person and despite my obvious flaws, she embraces the qualities I possess.”
What else can I say; the only words I can muster after sharing Christian Dillon’s heroic life with you are (from yet another iconic playwright): “All’s Well That Ends Well”.