By Daniel J. Vance
Don Bania of suburban Minneapolis is the statewide chairperson of a nonprofit disability-related organization. (I have volunteered for his group over the last few years.) His personal connection to disability began rather abruptly in 1970 while riding a motorcycle through South Minneapolis.
“I was 18 and just graduated from high school,” he said in a telephone interview. “My life was turned upside down when I was robbed of (the use of) my arms and legs. A drunk driver made a sudden left-hand turn in front of me. I remember it just like it was yesterday.”
Everything turned into slow motion as he flew over the handlebars and also the drunk driver's roof. The subsequent impact broke his neck and permanently paralyzed him below the shoulders. He lost hand movement and feeling.
“I remember lying in the hospital on a [special] frame, with tongs screwed into my skull. I was flipped every two hours from my stomach to my back to keep my lungs clear and to avoid pressure sores. I was crying, saying, 'God, why me?' I thought then I'd walk someday. It was a natural response for denial to kick in. I didn't want to believe it [had happened].”
Over the next seven years he was kicked out of two rehabilitation centers for his anger, and alcohol and marijuana use. At 26, after being admitted to a nursing home where most residents were much older, he suddenly realized that “God had me cornered.” He learned the “purpose” behind his suffering and broken life. And he forgave the 60-year-old drunk driver causing the accident.
In a way, he said, “breaking my neck screwed my head on straight. It opened my eyes to the fact that life is a precious gift and that within every tragedy lies an opportunity.”
Over the last four years, Bania has been a state chairperson of Wheels for the World, a California-headquartered, faith-based nonprofit that collects used wheelchairs from individuals or medical offices, and restores and freely distributes those wheelchairs to people in need in Asia, Central America, eastern Europe and Africa. The wheelchairs are fitted to individuals by volunteer therapists. The organization has freely given 30,000 wheelchairs to people since 1994. About 18 million people worldwide are in need.
Bania often shares his personal story with elementary school, other youth, and church groups.
For more, see www.danieljvance.com or www.wheelsfortheworld.org