The Disabled Dog Whisperer Finding Service Dogs For Kids In Need

With Sunny, a German/Belgian shepherd mix by her side, Tabitha Bell is helping kids who can't afford service dogs find a companion.

Diagnosed in fourth grade with a debilitating form of Muscular Dystrophy called Charcot Marie Tooth disease, Tabitha Bell endured six surgeries and still struggled to walk. She fell often and was unable to get up by herself. She needed to hold onto someone to get around. That all changed when Sunny, a German/Belgian shepherd mix came into her life. She was 12.

Since Sunny kept her steady and made her stronger, Tabitha vowed to help others. She started Pawsitive Pawsibilities, a nonprofit that provides service dogs, free-of-charge, to people with disabilities. In the past six years, she’s raised $130,000 to place nine dogs that are helping children and adults conquer the challenges of paralysis, Cerebral Palsy, and PTSD.

“The increased mobility allowed me to be more independent and to walk on my own,” she said.

Life Before Sunny

Before Sunny came along, things were very different for Tabitha.

“I was weak and remember receiving the Presidential Fitness Award in second grade because I tried so hard,” she said. “Some students and parents objected, but my physical education teacher told my parents I tried. He believed I’d never be able to do a sit up. He was right. My mom hired personal trainers to help me gain strength and balance. By fourth grade, I was falling down at school several times a day and could not step on a curb without assistance. I had great friends and went everywhere holding the hand or arm of one of my friends.”

“I fell in love with him when we first met… I knew he was going to change my life.”

Sunny was a little over two when he came to live with Tabitha. “I fell in love with him when we first met,” she said. “I remember the day I stepped off a curb all by myself. It seems like a simple thing for most people; for me, just walking independently, let alone navigating curbs and simple steps, was unimaginable. I knew he was going to change my life.”

She wanted to pay it forward. Her goal was to purchase a service dog for another child. Unfortunately, the wait time can be two or more years and the cost’s prohibitive to many. Sunny was raised as a service dog and cost her parents $14,000.

Tabitha Bell.

Making A Pawsitive Difference

Today, Pawsitive Pawsibilities is working on placing its 10th service dog.

Not everyone was on board with Tabitha getting a service dog. Her orthopedic surgeon at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego was skeptical. “He came around after watching me walk down the hall barefoot, without stabilizing shoes, just holding onto Sunny’s harness,” she said. “He’s now a huge fan of service dogs and told me he could use a dozen or so to help kids he was operating on. He was surprised by the cost.”

She didn’t want that to keep others from getting service dogs. “When we first started we located a girl my age (12) and purchased a wheelchair assistance dog for her,” Tabitha, who is 18 now, said.

The dog, a yellow Labrador retriever named Attie, was trained to retrieve the girl’s crutches, cell phone, and other necessities. “Attie helps her walk like Sunny helps me,” Tabitha said. “We’ve remained friends and she even flew out to visit me and spoke at my high school.”

Tabitha Bell with a new friend who received a yellow lab service dog from Pawsitive Pawsibnilities.

Finding Service Dogs For Kids In Need

Tabitha works through referrals from doctors and physical therapists to find recipients for the dogs. “After reviewing the recipient’s needs, we put them in touch with a trainer,” she explained. “Most of our trainers search dog breeders for dogs that are around 18 months old. Some of the dogs were bred for show and have obedience training. Sometimes, when they don’t win championships, the breeders are willing to sell them. It means our clients have beautiful dogs who are smart and trained to provide specific types of assistance.”

To raise money to purchase the dogs, Tabitha hosts annual concerts, 5K runs, and other fundraisers. “We run the Super Paw 5K in Utah and this year,” she said, “I’m attempting to run a Super Paw Fun Run at UC Berkeley (where she attends college).”

In the past, she participated in the Fun Runs in a wheelchair with Sunny by her side. This year she plans on walking the entire route.

Pawsitive Pawsibilities also helps kids organize lemonade stands and bake sales. “Some of the sales have raised over $250 in a few hours,” she said. “The kids have fun raising money and customers like knowing the children are involved in a positive project. I believe it’s important for children to embrace serving others early.”

Tabitha Bell with Sunny by her side and a friend with his service dog relaxing after a 5K.

Paying It Forward

Tabitha’s a recipient of the 2018 Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes, which honors 15 young people from across the U.S. and Canada who have made a positive difference to others. The winners receive $10,000 to support their service work or higher education.

“Without Sunny, I’d have been in a wheelchair and never had the confidence, ability, or opportunity to pursue my own dreams.”

“Tabitha turned a difficult situation,” Barbara Ann Richman, executive director of the Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes said, “into something that is doing so much good for other people with disabilities. In doing so, she reminds us all of our capacity to transform our own lives and those of others.”

She’s also teaching others about service dogs. “Without them we cannot live and function independently,” she said. “As more people understand that, they’re more likely to understand why service dogs have a few privileges most pets do not. It makes life easier for those of us who rely on our dogs every day.”

“Having my service dog changed my life. Without Sunny, I’d have been in a wheelchair and never had the confidence, ability, or opportunity to pursue my own dreams.”

Disability Profiles

Why The World Needs More Disabled Superheroes

Becoming a superhero is every kid's dream... but when it comes to disability, it's a dream not reflected in most comics. That's something a new wave of comic creators is looking to change.

In the comic book multiverse, anything’s possible. Characters with X-ray vision, superhuman strength or invisibility occupy each page and no one bats an eyelid. However, despite their extraordinary qualities, our heroes are flawed: they make mistakes, they have very human problems, which tempers their invincibility and makes them relatable.

Unless, of course, you’re disabled. While mainstream characters have chinks in their armor, disabled characters are usually either missing completely, or lazy stereotypes: grotesquely deformed villains, or damaged characters with an axe to grind. There are exceptions, of course–Daredevil is a famously blind superhero, albeit one whose superpowers compensate for his disability to such an extent that he might as well be sighted, and the X-Men’s Professor X is a paraplegic–but by and large, disability has largely been forgotten by comic makers.

But this could be changing. With more awareness of disability representation in the mainstream media, perhaps the superhero multiverse is due a shake up.

A Superhero With Down Syndrome

David Walker’s well known in the comic universe, having written Luke Cage and Nighthawk for Marvel Comics and Shaft for Dynamite Entertainment. As an established author and as a black man who knows what it feels like to be an outsider, he feels a responsibility to bring representation to his work.

David Welker has written comics for Marvel, Dynamite, and more.

“As a kid growing up, I did not see an adequate amount of representation that made me feel like I had a place in these large, make-believe worlds. And I still remember what that feels like. And so now that I’m in a position to create comics, I feel the least I can do is work to make other people included.”

When publisher Lion Forge approached Walker to write for Superb, a new comic about a meteor giving people all over Earth superpowers, Walker was initially on the fence. However, when he heard one of the lead characters, Jonah, had Down Syndrome, he was sold.

“I thought, if someone was going to write a character with Down Syndrome, I wanted to see it done right. I figured if someone was going to mess it up, I would rather it was me messing it up trying to do it properly than somebody to not give the character the love and attention they deserved.”

I thought, if someone was going to write a character with Down Syndrome, I wanted to see it done right.

Having volunteered with children with different developmental abilities, Walker felt well placed to tackle someone who is often misrepresented, misunderstood, or not represented at all.

“I think that everybody deserves characters they can relate to, and those characters should be painted in pictures that are as human as humanly possible.”

Walker read up on Down Syndrome, and ran workshops with children and their families. Then he got down to work. He’s not afraid to admit that creating Jonah meant confronting his own prejudices and preconceptions of what Down Syndrome was.

The cover of the Superb trade paperback, showing Jonah, a superhero with Down Syndrome.

“To admit this is embarrassing and shameful, but there were times I was writing him and I would think, did I make him sound too smart? It’s a difficult thing to admit. I realized afterwards, wow, how prejudicial is that on my part? This assumption that just because a kid has Down Syndrome means he can’t use big words or say things that are really smart, or really funny. And I got mad at myself for thinking that way. That’s our societal condition. And I just had to acknowledge that and grow.”

One concern was giving Jonah the humanity he deserved, in an interesting and engaging story.

“Jonah spoke to me a lot even before I started writing him. I know that might sound odd, but as a writer, you want your character to talk to you and to express themselves in a way in your imagination that makes it easy to write.”

“I think that everybody deserves characters they can relate to, and those characters should be painted in pictures that are as human as humanly possible.”

He also wanted to subvert the idea that disability is a hindrance.

“I wanted to make sure the message was, just because he has superpowers, his powers don’t negate his condition. We all have our strengths and weaknesses, and the Down Syndrome doesn’t have to be a weakness, just part of who he is.

“Jonah’s greatest strength is that everyone underestimates him because of his Down Syndrome, which makes his Down Syndrome his greatest strength.”

Most importantly, Walker’s looking to do what he does best: to entertain, with plenty of action scenes and gripping plots. After all, that’s what his readers like, no matter who they are. “If a kid’s in a wheelchair or if they have autism or Down Syndrome, they’re still a kid, not some other, separate thing.”

The X-Men Of Disability

Across the Atlantic, in Hampshire, UK, Dan White’s been writing and drawing comics for years, producing the children’s comic Cindy and Biscuit as well as the more dark Terminus and Insomnia cartoons.

But it wasn’t until his daughter Emily, born with spina bifida, was three and Dan began to search television, books, and comics in search of characters in wheelchairs, that he realised how little was out there.

So he sat down at his desk, in his living room, and created The Department of Ability, a universe of characters, each with a disability. There’s Billy, a cat with carbon wheels, a radar and a transmitter. Jacob Claypole, who is blind with super-heightened senses and a weaponized cane, and of course, Emily, in her flying wheelchair.

There was nothing like The Department of Ability out there, Dan says. And as he drew, he realized that his project had potential outside his own living room.

“I didn’t know if the world was ready for a mainstream, fun, accessible story about Superheroes that showcases disability as normal, every day and brilliant, which disability is,” he says.

While authors have good intentions, White says many fall back onto tired stereotypes.

“A lot of authors … become unintentionally patronizing or they don’t flesh out their characters, investigate the reality of what this brilliant, diverse, talented community actually want..”

The Department of Ability is a superhero team of characters with disabilities.


All this community actually wants is to be seen, read or written about just like everybody else.”

Children know when they’re being talked down to, he says. “Sometimes authors go overboard in the sympathy or educational stakes, when all this community actually wants is to be seen, read or written about just like everybody else.”

“Treat children with equality of mind and they will astound you, children of all abilities have more imagination, glory, and knowledge than those who eternally dictate to them what they think they want to read and see. Engage and challenge your reader and they will adore you for it.”

As for Emily, she’s 12 now and proud of her dad and the characters he’s created. “She continues to plug the idea and its values to whomever she meets, a rare thing for an almost-teenager and gaming, music obsessive,” White says.

White’s 230-page graphic novel—which he describes as “totally original, loud, groundbreaking and unlike anything ever printed—is doing the rounds among publishers, and is getting nibbles in the UK, the US and Asia.

The publishing industry has been slow to come round to Dan’s idea, which is surprising given the attention he’s had from around the world from social media and mainstream news outlets.

It’s been a long time in the making, and he’d like to see it in print. Seeing themselves represented in print is no less than children like Emily deserve, he says.

Why Diversity In Comics Is So Important

New Jersey writer Erin Hawley—a critic who writes about comics and games on her popular website,—has always loved Superman titles, and Betty and Veronica comics. But growing up with muscular dystrophy, there was never any question of seeing herself reflected in the pages she devoured so eagerly.

“I grew up without a strong notion of disability as an identity, so not seeing myself represented never occurred to me until adulthood.”

Erin Walker, a comics critic with muscular dystrophy, says more needs to be done to make comics more inclusive.

Now, she realizes how important it is for people from different groups to see themselves represented in the mainstream. Seeing yourself on the page; and a fair, empowering image of yourself, is vital for self-esteem. “It lets you know that you matter, that disability is part of who you are—and that’s OK.”

As well as wanting to see more disability representation in comic books and graphic novels, Hawley would love to see better-written characters, as existing characters are an “amalgamation of stereotypes and cliches.”

“Or disability is a catalyst for a character’s actions; their disability gives them a reason to be evil, to somehow get back at society or whatever. It always positions disability as a negative. This is especially true for villains or anti-heroes like Professor X.”

Other characters have their disabilities downplayed. “When we do get an awesome disabled character like Oracle (ed. – Barbara Gordon, previously Batgirl, who was paralyzed from the waist down up until a few years ago), their disability is stripped away.”

“I think I could have used someone like me in comics growing up—it would have made the transition to being proud of myself as a disabled woman much easier”

“When all you see in media is negative stereotypes, it lets you know that folks don’t consider you at all. And that’s an especially damaging message to send to kids and teenagers.”

“I think I could have used someone like me in comics growing up—it would have made the transition to being proud of myself as a disabled woman much easier.”

As White says, the time for change is nigh.

“Children and young adults tell me they are fed up with their media image and they love that my work gives them something of their own at last, which is so fun and accessible it can read by absolutely anyone.

“Representation isn’t hard, trust me.”

Cancer Chronic Illness Features

Is Medical Crowdfunding Really The Answer To A Broken Healthcare System?

These three stories of individuals who used crowdfunding to raise money to pay their medical bills show that sites like Indiegogo are just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to navigating the system.

Life with a health condition can be a stressful journey, but financial woes can make it harder. In a broken health care system in which few people can truly afford to be chronically ill, many patients have to get creative. That’s why many Americans are turning to crowdfunding—raising money on the Internet using social media for promotion–to pay their health care costs, with middling success. According to Business Insider, half of all funds raised on crowdfunding platforms like Indiegogo, YouCaring and GoFundMe are used for medical costs,

Lost in the greater debate about whether healthcare crowdfunding is evidence of a broken system or innovation in action, though, are the personal stories.

Shelley Simmonds.

Fraser Simmonds was born with a rare life-limiting condition called Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, a genetic degenerative muscular condition which over time causes muscles to waste away and die currently has no cure or treatment options. Although the Simmonds family lives in the UK, which has free healthcare through the National Health Service (NHS), not all of Fraser’s expenses were paid for: for example, the powered wheelchair he needed to socialize independently with other kids, which was not considered a “medical requirement.”

The family eventually launched a GoFundMe campaign for essential care for Fraser. And they’re doing their part to pay it forward: the family now regularly organizes charitable events to raise money for a treatment for Duchenne.

Fraser’s Mom, Shelley, explains that it wasn’t easy for the Simmonds to turn to crowdfunding. The family was always financially independent before Fraser was born, and it was hard for them to ask for help. “Having a disabled child is a huge financial worry,” she says. “People do not always understand what little financial help is given to those that genuinely need it. I would do whatever it takes to give Fraser the best in life so sometimes you have to put your pride aside.”

Yet because he lives in the UK, Fraser Simmonds is one of the lucky ones, whose medical costs are still mostly paid for by the NHS. Here in the US, though, the generosity of strangers on crowdfunding platforms can be the difference between life and death.

Amongst other ailments, Linda Ruescher lives with lupus, a chronic autoimmune disease that affects 1.5 million people in the U.S. alone. At age 64, just three months before being eligible from Medicare, Linda lost her insurance and developed a pulmonary embolism. A life-saving hospital visit left her with an astounding medical bill of $130,000, as well as out-of-pocket prescription bills that cost over $2,100 a month.

People do not always understand what little financial help is given to those that genuinely need it…

Although Linda returned to work just six days after her hospital visit, those costs were unaffordable. “I had to choose between a roof over my head and food in my belly or the medication,” she says. “I just needed to hold on three more months until I qualified for Medicare. I was sick, exhausted and terrified of being homeless,” she says. Crowdfunding was her only option, and after a social media push from her friends and family, she reached her crowdfunding goal. But it didn’t come without a personal cost. “Asking for help struck at the core of my identity,” she says. “It represented a loss of independence, a loss of ability to support myself and my needs, and even worse, it forced me to recognize and face the severity of my health condition.”

What also gets lost in the debate around healthcare crowdfunding is that money alone can’t solve many of the problems that people with chronic health conditions face. When Nicholas Emerson’s hardworking father died from a rare and aggressive form of Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2016, his absence as the sole provider for the family was sorely felt. Nicholas and his sister set up a crowdsourcing page to try to alleviate some of the strain. They met their goal, but found that money alone couldn’t fill the hole that had been left in their family.

Linda Rueschler used crowdfunding to pay her bills after a sudden embolism.

“Crowdfunding sites help to pay the bills but that’s only one aspect of care that’s needed,” he says. “Such sites can never do enough to help with all the other time-sensitive, rapidly-changing, emotional, psychological, and physical needs involved [in a sudden health emergency] that, unless you’ve gone through your own version of this, you will never fully understand.” That’s why he created Supportful, a platform that allows families to crowdsource the tangible acts of support they need from their friends and families, like fundraising, meals, gifting, volunteering, and more.

There are no universal panaceas to navigating the complicated world of chronic illness, and crowdfunding is no different. Even if you can raise the money you need through crowdfunding your medical expenses, it can only help ease the burden of having a condition touch your life, not cure it completely. Until our system evolves enough to meet the full spectrum of needs a person might face on their healthcare journey, crowdfunding will only be one piece of the puzzle.


Disability Q&As

With Or Without A Wheelchair, The Funniest Kid On The Block

As a comedian, Steve Way is something of a bad boy... and that's just the way he likes it.

Three minutes into our Skype interview and Steve Way is already railing against the system. He’s in the process of moving out of his parents’ place in Rutherford, New Jersey, and into an apartment with his girlfriend. Moving house isn’t easy at the best of times, and in Steve’s case, it’s complicated by not being disabled enough.

“I’ve been fighting with Medicaid since the beginning of the year. My biggest problem is getting enough hours to have an aide with me while my girlfriend is at work, because the beauty of the American healthcare system is that I’m told I’m not disabled enough.”

Steve was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy at four. By 11, he was in a wheelchair. Now 27, he’s had his fair share of illnesses, hospital visits and surgeries. He requires help to feed and dress himself, and is on a ventilator more often than not. It’s little wonder he rails at a system which refuses to recognize his needs.

“Every four months someone from the government comes to my house to make sure I’m still disabled,” he jokes. “I thought just sitting here was enough, but apparently not.”

It’s this type of black comedy scenario that fuels Steve’s acerbic stand-up comedy, and forms the basis for his popular Uplifting Dystrophy YouTube series, which highlights the difficulties of navigating the city, going to parties and dealing with well-meaning friends when you have Muscular Dystrophy.

We spoke with Steve about his life, his work, his comedy, and his condition to learn more. Some answers have been lightly edited for clarity.

How did you get started in comedy?

When I was growing up I always used jokes to cope with my disability. My friends were always in on it, and we turned everything into a joke. My friends in high school started a sketch comedy group and they were doing a show, a fundraiser for muscular dystrophy. My friend was over at my house one day and said, let’s write a stand-up set. That was eight years ago and I’ve been doing stand-up ever since.

Recently, I’ve been doing a lot of writing. A couple of months ago I met with a couple of TV networks to pitch an idea and a couple of them really liked it so we’re hoping to take that further. It’s the same style as Uplifting Dystrophy, but more grounded in reality. Everything in the show will be true, which makes it so fun as the truth is so absurd.

We don’t see a lot of people like you on TV. Why do you think it’s important this changes?

There is no one like me on TV. And disability representation is horrible. Something like five percent of characters on TV are disabled, and of that figure, only five percent of those characters are played by disabled actors.

Something like five percent of characters on TV are disabled, and of that figure, only five percent of those characters are played by disabled actors.

And not only are you seeing non-disabled actors play disabled roles, but these stories of disabled people are being written by non-disabled people. So the portrayals aren’t accurate, and the stories aren’t either. You have a movie like The Theory of Everything, with Eddie Redmayne. It’s not only a slap in the face that he wins Best Actor for it, but at the end of the movie, you have this dream sequence where he gets up and walks. No disabled person dreams about that, but that’s what non-disabled people think we dream about. They think we sit in our rooms and daydream about walking. That just helps reinforce this perception of what we are—less than—and it’s the farthest from reality.

You’re kind of a jerk in your comedy. Where does that come from?

That’s how I am in real life. My friends always joke that if people actually knew me they wouldn’t like me. It’s true, for the most part. It [comes from] a little bit of everything. I can’t go to New York City without encountering an elevator that’s out of order. If I take the bus, nine times out of ten the bus driver will give me a hard time because he doesn’t want to get out and get me on the bus. I’ve had times when the bus driver just drove away and left me on the sidewalk. People think I’m exaggerating, but it’s all real.

As someone who was brought up to not laugh at the guy in the wheelchair, your comedy is challenging. Are you trying to make your audiences uncomfortable?

Absolutely. When I do stand-up in front of an audience I can tell they’re pretty uncomfortable, they’re not sure if they should laugh or not. As my set goes on I can see them warming up, they’re getting comfortable and used to my style. I kind of have to come off [as a jerk] because if I’m just passive they won’t really take me seriously and they won’t open up.

When I do stand-up in front of an audience I can tell they’re pretty uncomfortable, they’re not sure if they should laugh or not.

It all just goes back to the truth. I tell people, we all have problems, my problems are just more on the outside. I’m just like you. I don’t have a job, I live with my parents, it’s hard to pay the bills, my reasons are a little different, but I understand the struggle. I’m able to make people empathize with me.

Do people ever get offended on your behalf?

There are people who say, oh you know you shouldn’t say certain things. My dad always jokes that I’ve set the disability rights movement back fifty years, but there are people who legitimately believe that. Which is frustrating, because there’s no reason we can’t be like everybody else, which means poking fun at ourselves.

You swear a lot. How do your audiences react to that?

The inimitable Steve Way. (Credit: Steve Way)

The first time people hear it, they’re shocked. The swearing shakes people up. I don’t really do it for the cheap laughs, I don’t throw fucks around for the sake of it. When I’m writing an episode of my show or some new stand-up, I put it when it’s necessary because if it’s oversaturated people get tired of it.

[In the US] we’re not cool about swearing, we’re not cool about sex or pornography, we’re a very sheltered culture. People are always freaking out about what’s on TV, what’s in music, it’s annoying, because [those things are] normal. But nothing in this country’s normal anymore.

How do you deal with people staring at you, or asking intrusive questions?

It doesn’t bother me, I know they just don’t know me. It’s why I do what I do, to educate. My stand-up set is one part telling jokes and another part educating. A lot of people come up to me after my set and say, hey, that was really funny. And I really didn’t know X, Y, and Z about muscular dystrophy.

I know people are curious about me. As soon as I’m onstage people have a ton of questions already. So ask me questions, it will make you feel better about me, and make you more comfortable.

My stand-up set is one part telling jokes and another part educating.

What do people ask you the most?

Oh, everything. What do I have, how do I go to the bathroom. I tell them, ‘on the toilet’. I get asked how I have sex, too.

That’s really creepy.

Yeah of course, but I’m fine with people asking me, so they don’t ask anyone else. Because someone else might not be as open and forthcoming as I am. And that’s going to make their perceptions of us even worse. So I’m fine being that guy.

Something you touch on in your comedy is the perceptions people have about dating while disabled. Is this something you’ve drawn on from real life?

It’s really hard dating while disabled. Most people with disabilities will tell you that the hardest part is just talking to people, and having them not dismiss you right away. My friends and I always joke that people think disabled people only get laid if their best friend in a leather jacket takes them to a strip club first. That only happens in TV and movies.

I think the hardest part of dating when you’re disabled is actually going on the dates, because you have to find places and activities that are accessible. The first date I ever went to was in downtown New York. To get there I had to take two trains. So I took the first one and when I went to take the elevator to the second one it was out of order. I ended up having to take three extra trains, and I was over half an hour late. There are a lot of factors that go into just going on a simple date.

I think the hardest part of dating when you’re disabled is actually going on the dates, because you have to find places and activities that are accessible.

I met my girlfriend online. I don’t drink so I don’t go to bars. I don’t really go to any places where people meet other people, I’m in front of my computer all day long so that’s what was most accessible to me.

Just because you’re disabled doesn’t mean you’re not tough. Photo: Steve Way

There’s a raw moment in one of your routines where your friend says you’re taking your frustrations out on him. Does frustration fuel your comedy?

Frustration pushes me more, gives me motivation. Frustration won’t change anything. Complaining won’t change anything. So I just do it. I know it’s not as simple as that for most people, my experiences and mentality are different.

When I was fourteen I had back surgery. It put me in the hospital for a week and a half. I was home for five weeks, and then got really sick. I went back to the hospital, and on the ride there I almost died. I ended up in the hospital for another month. Having a moment like that at a young age really changed my perception of the world. It showed me that life really is so short, and pushed me to go out and do whatever I want to do. I don’t know how much time I have left. Everyone said I wouldn’t make it past eighteen, so I’m not going to let anyone stop me now.

You’ve clearly made it past eighteen, so what does your future look like?

Recently, my doctors told me if I stay in this ventilator and stay healthy, I’m going to live well into my 70s. To which my first reaction is… fuck. I have a lot to figure out. They never told me I was going to live this long, so I didn’t learn anything. I have a lot of life shit to figure out. I’m not too happy about it, but I’ve got to do it.

Disability Genetic & Congenital Diseases Q&As

How To Design A Room To Heal In

Lynn Goode began thinking differently about interior design after she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

The texture of her bedspread, the way her walls curved, the ridges on her crown molding: When multiple sclerosis left Lynn Goode confined to the dream home she’d bought in Houston, Texas, but never had time to enjoy, she started to notice the details all around her.

Goode, who just turned 60, was first diagnosed with MS when she was in her late 30s and caring for four young kids. The diagnosis came after months of numbness, blurred vision and a drooping mouth. Long before MRIs were the gold standard for diagnosing MS, her doctor told herself to submerge herself in a hot bath and note what happened to her body; she soon became so weak she couldn’t stand up.

After her diagnosis, Goode recovered at home. Although already an art dealer, Goode had an epiphany as she lay within the confines of her four-poster bed, gazing out the window into her lush courtyard: our interior spaces matter. They help heal us.

Through MS, Goode found her calling. She opened Lynn Goode Vintage in Houston, where she revives and sells furniture from the 1950s to 1980s: pieces with a story, a soul. She’s driven to help others create comforting interiors and safe haven spaces, rooms that soothe and heal.

We sat down with Goode to learn more about soothing spaces, how they can help those with chronic illness, and how to create them.

Lynn Goode’s career path changed after she was diagnosed with MS in her late 30s.When you were recovering in bed, you decided to forgo T.V. and impulse purchases on QVC and focus on your surroundings. What did you learn?

I became aware of what brings pleasure in a room and what doesn’t. What colors work, how light works. It allowed me to think about rooms in a different way, as containing individuals, as a form of healing and containment. I got very interested in design after that. Previously I’d designed an art gallery and co-designed a bunch of different spaces, but then, I started collecting modern objects and furniture and being more aware of interior spaces and how they affect us.

What was it about your room that comforted you?

I was isolated at home. I couldn’t go outside, but I could see the flowers and plants in my courtyard through the windows in my room. The design brought the outside in. I remember we had azaleas out there, some ivy and potted plants. It was the greenery that was so pretty. There’s something about flower and plants, the growth, it makes you feel more alive. Also, the textures and the fibers of the fabrics the interior designer and I had picked out together—on the headboard, the bedding, the chairs—the beauty and variety of it all, and the pleasing feel of the fabrics, they all helped lift me up.

How do you help people create healing and comforting spaces?

Our home is such a personal expression of who we are. To create a space that feels like a safe, holding space, first I need to know what a person likes, what they gravitate toward, what they enjoy, what calms them. I use a lot of different textures. For example, I like to use a sheepskin rug or a heavily textured shag, some type of thick rug, and pair that with more streamlined or structured furniture. And then always, in every space, I put a great, big reading chair. It could also be an arm chair and an ottoman.

What about light? What’s more soothing, lamps or overhead lighting?

You need a balance of both. It’s important to have light at different levels. That helps soften a room. I like candlelight and table lamps too.

And what about colors? Are certain ones better for healing?

Colors that have always been associated with healing are yellow or white, pure light. But blue can be very tranquil too, because it’s sea and sky.

Colors that have always been associated with healing are yellow or white, pure light.

Why should we also have plants inside our home?

Live plants are the most important; they filter the air. Ferns are really good at absorbing and recreating a positive inner space.

What are the top three things every healing room should have?

Color is an important consideration when designing rooms to heal in.

A nice rug. A nice rug grounds a room. Interesting light, and by that, I mean a light fixture or lamp that’s sculptural, that has an interesting design. And then a mixture of textures. For example, nubby, textural fabrics with smooth velvets or silk. Different woods. Every room should have some wood, some glass, some steel and an upholstery.

How do you think your diagnosis has contributed to who you are today?

Having a major– and at that time what could have been considered life-threatening–illness in my late 30s, just when I was getting my kids a little settled, it was completely life-changing. It changed everything—the power structure in my then-marriage, my outlook on life. I felt compelled to travel as much as possible because I didn’t know how long I’d be around for. I thought to myself, “no, this didn’t happen to me, this isn’t supposed to happen.” But, it also led me here, to this place where I feel like I’m helping people. Whether it’s a chronic illness, stress or even trauma, everyone struggles with some issue, and everyone can benefit from a comforting space. For me, it took a while to get to a place where I wasn’t panicking. My grandfather had what we now know is ALS, and he died within two years of being diagnosed. But eventually I was able to get to a place where I said to myself, “to heck with it, live.”

Whether it’s a chronic illness, stress or even trauma, everyone struggles with some issue, and everyone can benefit from a comforting space.

Anything else you want to add?

Over the years, I’ve thought about why I gravitate toward older furniture, and I’ve realized a lot of it has to do with my MS. The furniture I find and restore is built well. It still has a lot of good years in it, but it might be damaged. There’s a metaphor there. To not discard or discount something, or someone, because of an imperfection. Furniture—and people—they can both be restored and renewed, they can both be given new life.