Do you make New Year's Resolutions year after year? Lose weight. Swear less. The usual. If you do, only to have them fall by the wayside a few days later, here's one to consider.
It's what Cameron Wallace has been doing since suffering a trio of strokes over a 24-hour period 18 years ago.
Those strokes left the-then 32-year-old Morristown native and current Florham Park resident what he referred to as "locked in."
"All I could do was communicate through an alphabet board, blinking my eyes," Wallace said. "I couldn’t speak or anything. I couldn’t even lift my head. The first time I spoke ... I was counting to 10 in my head the longest time, trying to get myself to say anything. I said 'one' about a month later."
Despite what then was a monumental achievement, doctors were not optimistic about Wallace's long-term prognosis. "They thought I was going to die right away," he said. "They told my mother—thank God they never told me. I never thought I was going to die."
Earlier this year, Wallace turned 50 years old.
"I remember thinking, 'whatever I have to do to get over this I will,'" he said. "I still didn’t have any concept of long-term permanent disability."
It has not been an easy 18 years. Much of that time was spent performing outpatient therapy on a body that had to start from square one.
Wallace continued that until recently, when doctors put him on what he called "maintenance therapy. I'm not a big fan of it," he said. "Basically, they're saying this is as far as you're going and you're not going to get any better."
He pauses to collect a breath, which usually come with relative ease but on occasion require concentration. Wallace gestured with the hand on his right side, the stronger side of his body. "I work out with a weight, every day with Rosa (his in-home daytime health aide)," he said. "Bend your knee repeatedly, stretch the hamstring, stretch the arm. It's passive range, not really like working out."
There has been progress over the near two decades since those three strokes Wallace said were never explained. Though he acknowledges his achievement, the wheelchair-bound Wallace said, at one time, "I literally prayed for death.
"It doesn’t matter how many people said it gets better. But, it does," he said.
Getting better wasn't just going to come to Wallace, however. "It took a long time. But, I started to go to council meetings and be involved in life again," he said. "That's when I stopped believing I was totally useless."
Wallace also joined the Board for Directors for the DAWN Center for Independent Living in Denville—an issue Wallace speaks passionately about.
"I run into a lot of able-bodied people that have a very paternalistic attitude [toward people with disabilities,]" he said. "If you’re physically disabled, you must be mentally incompetent as well, which is far from the truth."
Wallace also would like to continue pursuing his passions for photography and video in a series of travel documentaries for those with disabilities.
Looking ahead to 2013, Wallace said of his ability to defy what doctors said nearly two decades ago and of battling his own personal demons, "motivation is important.
"Self-advocacy from the doctors to the average person on the street," he said. "There are a lot of people out there with misconceptions on what it means to be handicapped ... It doesn’t feel all that great, in relation to normalcy. But, I feel now that I have a functional life. Before, the term 'vegetable' applied.
"Always have a goal. That gives you a reason to live," Wallace added.