Man Realizes Dream of Becoming a Doctor Despite Cerebral Palsy

Doctors told Lisa Sexton that her firstborn son, Tyler, would be in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. Twenty-five years later, the boy who doctors expected to never walk is himself a doctor, and his mother couldn't be more proud. Their journey to acceptance, courage and determination, however, was a long painful one, which they chronicled in a book entitled, “God Bless These Little Legs.” The 110-page paperback doesn't just depict their joys and triumphs, it also reveals Lisa's own guilt and depression after Tyler's premature birth, her attempted suicide, and the moment she decided to put Tyler in God's hands. Tyler tells about God's will for him and why he never gave up on his dreams of walking, scuba diving, and, most of all, being a doctor.

Lisa Sexton recalled the day she was told Tyler had cerebral palsy. She went home, closed all the blinds, and mourned in the dark. “I let go of a normal little boy,” she said. “I was mourning a broken heart. I was mourning the life I dreamed about: the white picket fence and two beautiful kids playing in the yard.” These days, the sun shines through open blinds in her Palm Harbor home. The 48-year-old proudly displays the framed medical degree that bears Tyler's name. “What I dreamed for my life — if those things would have come true, it would have been a tragedy,” said Lisa, her eyes filling with tears. “I did not dream big enough. If I would have gotten that life, I would have missed out on the greatest gifts in my life. Having a special-needs kid made me have a servant's heart.”

Raising a child with a disability presents significant challenges for parents, and it can strain a relationship. Lisa and Kevin Sexton have been married for 27 years, but the frequently overwhelming responsibility of raising Tyler almost dismantled their marriage. Lisa wrote in her book, “Kevin and I had no idea how to carry this load together. He worked countless hours only to come home to a fresh stack of medical bills and a wife with unreasonable expectations. We had no time to spend on our marriage, our debt, or ourselves.” Kevin, 47, looked forward to having a son who could play basketball with him. Instead, he would spend time and energy instilling in his only son that he could do whatever wanted, while making sure Tyler's medical bills were paid. In addition to teaching Tyler how to shoot baskets and hit a golf ball, he also encouraged his interest in scuba diving.

Tyler said of his father, “He has shown me the attributes of a good man and has always encouraged me and backed my every decision, even if others thought it was crazy.” Tyler said. Tyler was born three-months premature. His lungs collapsed on the way to the hospital neonatal unit, and he wasn't expected to survive. He went home just over a month later. As time passed, Lisa and Kevin noticed that Tyler wasn't doing things like other babies his age, such as crawling or sitting up. Tyler was diagnosed at 18-months-old with spastic diplegia, a form of cerebral palsy that affects balance and movement below the waist. Doctors told his parents that he would always be in a wheelchair.

Lisa's grief over having a special-needs child turned to a steely resolve. She challenged doctors who said Tyler would never walk. She fought health insurance companies that denied him coverage. She confronted parents who allowed their children to taunt the “little boy with the funny-looking legs”. Tyler got his first walker at age three. Physical therapist Michelle Larson sensed his determination to beat the odds. “Although he had a wheelchair, Tyler was very determined that he was going to walk,” she said. “He has always thought that way from the day I started working with him. He was always a glass-half-full kid.” “It was just embedded in me,” Tyler said. “My parents instilled in me such a perseverance. If Mom and Dad say I can walk, then I can walk.”

Using the walker was a struggle, however, because of his poor balance. He would fall several times, breaking a few bones here and there. Other kids shunned him because he'd take them down with him when he fell. When Tyler was five, Larson persuaded a very reluctant Lisa to take her son to an Easter Egg hunt. Lisa's heart ached as she watched Tyler hobble behind all the other kids who were scampering to look for eggs. “Tears rolled down my face, and I was mad because everyone else always thought they had the answers,” Lisa said. “I knew this would happen, that Tyler would be left behind. I rushed to him to apologize and to take him home.” When she got to him, she was surprised to see Tyler smiling from ear-to-ear. He was beaming because the other children were running so fast their eggs tumbled out of their baskets, and he picked them all up, filling his basket. “At that moment, God said to me, 'Hand him over to me, and his basket will always be filled with blessings,'” said Lisa. “I sobbed in that field that day. And some 21 years later, Tyler's basket has always been filled with blessings.”

Indeed, Tyler's “basket” has received plenty of blessings but the going got a bit rough at times. He underwent 16 surgeries and spent many weeks in a cast from his waist down. Eventually he learned to walk, but he still struggled with his balance, which made it hard to get around. During a high school field trip, he saw a demonstration of a Segway Human Transporter, an electric-powered, self-balancing transportation machine. It wasn't long before Tyler owned one. To him it meant freedom. “I thought going to college I was going to have to be in a wheelchair to get around,” he said. “With the Segway, I could keep up with everyone and walk long distances with friends.”

He later met a man who worked with the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind. Tyler told him about his disability, his balance problems, and desire for independence. Enter Danny, who came into Tyler's life when he turned 18 courtesy of the Guide Dog Foundation. Danny is a specially trained guide dog who helps Tyler keep his balance and acts as his “living cane". Tyler holds onto the dog's harness, and Danny braces to keep Tyler from falling if he tilts forward. With the Segway and Danny, Tyler was able to attend the University of South Florida independently. He graduated Magna Cum Laude in 2007 with a Biomedical Science degree. Then he moved on to his next endeavor--medical school. It was be an uphill battle. Twenty-five schools rejected his application. Tyler still remembers the painful words of one school interviewer: he could never be a physician because people wouldn't want a disabled doctor. Stung by those words, but nowhere near deterred, Tyler applied and was accepted at the University of Sint Eustatius School of Medicine in the Caribbean. He majored in Hyperbaric Medicine, and took his clinical rotations at hospitals in the US.

Tyler graduated in June 2011 with a medical doctorate in Hyperbaric and Pediatric Medicine. He passed his medical boards and is currently interviewing for a medical residency. He also serves as an adjunct professor of Clinical Hyperbaric Medicine at Sint Eustatius. While others saw his disability as an obstacle to a medical career, Tyler feels it makes him more credible. “I am an example that all things are possible, and I can tell a patient that I know how they feel and mean it.”

Both Tyler and his mom look forward to sharing their story. “I've heard 'no' so many times,” Tyler said. “No, you will not walk. No, you will not be a doctor. No, it can't be done, so give up on this dream. No one has the right to say you can't do something. Every day that we live, we have a chance to have a positive impact on someone's life.” To follow along with more of Tyler's journey, you can visit his website at Sources: Video source: Image source: