Jan 29, 2013

5 Inspiring People Who Changed the World Despite Life-Threatening Obstacles

Imagine having to go to work each day in a wheelchair because your muscles have become paralyzed, or constantly having to struggle with suicidal thoughts along with the weight of a nation’s future on your shoulders. It’s difficult enough for one person to change the world as it is, but imagine how monumental such a task becomes when you are also suffering from a life-threatening condition.

Amazingly, history is filled with figures who have managed to make their marks on the world all while struggling with a serious disability. Some had to battle with the ravages of an incurable disease, while others were born with conditions that haunted them for their entire lives. Regardless of the burden, these people are a testimony to the strength of the human will and the perseverance of the body.

Perhaps you have witnessed people suffering from life-threatening obstacles and want to do something to help them by pursuing a career in health care. No matter which form of education you choose, from medical assisting training to a MD program, schooling alone will not prepare you to face the emotional turmoil that comes from treating patients with chronic illnesses.

There is always hope, however, even for those with untreatable conditions, and though they may not enter the pages of history like the following individuals, they are still capable of astonishing achievements.

Stephen Hawking

This year, famous physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking celebrated his 70th birthday in spite of a lifelong struggle with Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS), a degenerative neurological condition that results in paralysis and death, usually due to asphyxiation. Patients diagnosed with this disease usually die within a few years, yet Hawking continues to beat the odds since his initial diagnosis at the age of 21. Although he has been almost completely paralyzed for most of his adult life, Hawking remains one of the brightest scientific minds of today, especially when it comes to improving the world’s understanding of black holes and the origins of the universe.

Abraham Lincoln

There has been much speculation regarding the medical history of one of the United States’ most beloved presidents, but most historians agree that he suffered from chronic and sometimes debilitating fits of depression throughout his life. While clinical depression and other related mood disorders are not fatal by themselves, they can severely undermine a patient’s ability to function as well as drive them to commit suicide. Lincoln, however, managed to push through these moods with the firm belief that it was his destiny to perform great things in life; a worthy conviction considering that he led the nation through one of its darkest periods.

Frida Kahlo

Mexican surrealist/symbolist painter Frida Kahlo, known for her iconic self-portraits, has become a heroine for both feminists and Chicana culture due to her ability to infuse her work with the suffering she endured both physically and mentally. Her struggle began as a child when she contracted polio and lost the use of her leg. At the age of 18, she was severely injured by a tram and afterward was forced to undergo a series of painful operations. Her personal life was also marked with suffering due to her marriage to famous muralist Diego Rivera, who was constantly unfaithful to her. She continued to paint in spite of these ills, and though her work was relatively unknown while alive, she has become highly influential today.

Steve Jobs

In 2011, business and technology news sources around the world paid tribute to the life of Steve Jobs by recognizing the numerous innovations he has made in the computing industry. As one of the greatest business leaders of this century, he is responsible for revolutionizing the way people think about computers. His influence began with the founding of Apple with Steve Wozniak in 1976, which grew to become the most valuable company in the world by 2011, largely due to his keen business instincts. Even while suffering from the debilitating effects of pancreatic cancer he introduced the iPhone and iPad, which popularized portable computing just as the iPod did with MP3 players.

Flannery O’Connor

Most students of 20th century American literature have read at least one short story by Flannery O’Connor, one of the most important writers of the Southern gothic tradition. Known for her grotesque but deeply moral fiction, O’Connor used dark humor to subtly convey her Orthodox Catholic beliefs in a manner that few (if any) other religious writers have managed to repeat. Her resulting body of work, while small, still carries an enormous influence on the lives of other artists such as Bruce Springsteen and Tommy Lee Jones. Her lifelong struggle with lupus, an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system attacks healthy tissue, caused her a great deal of suffering and ultimately led to her death at the age of 39 from kidney failure.

Ryan Chapman is a writer from Phoenix, Arizona. He has written articles on medical assistant schools in Phoenix, as well as other education programs related to the medical field.

Image Credit: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

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