Month: October 2014

People Who Inspire: Maria Connell inspiring with Down Syndrome

Maria writing

When Maria Connell pens a poem, it has a purpose – to inspire. The 33 year old is a writer, speaker, and kindergarten teacher’s aide who knows how to overcome challenges.

Born with Down Syndrome, she writes poems that become a special part of birthdays, holidays, funerals and other occasions for family and friends. Her insight is unspoiled and pure, giving the recipients of her poems a meaningful and lasting keepsake. This is her gift.

Maria weddingIt’s not only the words, but her voice that she lends to these special occasions, sometimes speaking in front of hundreds of people.

At the Nantucket wedding of her cousin Chris and his new wife Molly, she recited her poem, which read in part, “I am with both of you on the beautiful island…the sun is up and the seagulls are calling…As you embark on your lifelong journey…now I can finally say Molly, welcome to the Connell family.

Fourteen years ago, Maria’s cousin, Colleen, gave her a journal as a birthday present. Since then, her poems are written in journals that fill her room with words that come from the heart – a heart that is overflowing with love. Continue reading


People Who Inspire: Ted and Wendy on being mobile with Spina Bifida

ted and wendy

Ted Pence and his girlfriend Wendy Garofalo were born with Spina Bifida – the most common permanently disabling birth defect in the United States. According to the Spina Bifida Association, this means that before birth, they had a “split gene” causing the spinal column not to close all the way. The condition causes paralysis and other complications.

Ted is 53 and Wendy is 48 years old. Both live independently, facing challenges that have made them stronger and more grateful.

The Kindness of Others

When Ted was in high school, having Spina Bifida meant that getting up to the second floor for classes with crutches and leg braces up to his waist would be a daily challenge. But he never worried about it. Continue reading

8 things a cancer patient wants you to know

Jaynette last chemo

I remember a conversation I had with my mother 25 years ago when she was going through treatments for ovarian cancer. She wanted to talk about planning her funeral. Although this is a topic anyone can discuss at any time, I brushed it off saying something like, ‘Oh mom, you’re going to be OK. We don’t have to talk about that now.’

Several years later, I read an article about how having this conversation empowers the patient. There are enough things a cancer patient can’t control. Planning anything – including a funeral – is something they can control, so let them do it.

Ever since then, I’ve wondered how family and friends can best support their loved ones living with cancer. So today, I had a conversation with someone who knows this subject well – Jaynette Brown. Since being diagnosed with stage III breast cancer 14 months ago, she has undergone 52 cancer treatments of radiation and chemo and is now being treated with therapies to treat a host of side effects.

What do we need to know? Here’s what she shared: Continue reading

5 life lessons learned from the making of “Pittsburgh from the Water”

Pittsburgh from the Water

One year ago, WQED-TV video-photojournalist Paul Ruggieri was asked by executive producer David Solomon if he would want to spend the next year creating a show that would capture four seasons of activities on western PA waterways. If Paul accepted the assignment, he’d have to produce, direct, film, and edit the one hour special, “Pittsburgh from the Water”.

Paul responded, “This is an enormous task!” And then he said, “Yes!” During the course of the next 12 months, the 26-time Emmy Award winner experienced western PA as he never did before and learned some life lessons along the way. Continue reading

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