Disability of any sort is not a condition any one of us would like to be burdened with. But for some, it’s a way of life, their whole life. Accepting the disability can’t be easy but showing strength of mind, patience and endurance in the face of adversity, a happier journey can be experienced, writes Richard Cartwright.
“That includes those around you, family members and others,” Christian declares, “I had a happy childhood, thanks to them – mum, dad and close friends, Henry and Priscilla. Doctors said at the time, there was no cure, so my parents quickly accepted the circumstances, realised that was that and got on with it and I recall being a happy child.” And that seems to have been communicated to Christian from a very young age, because to the present day he displays no problem accepting his disability, getting around and communicating with everyone, always with a smile…
Cerebral Palsy: a condition marked by impaired muscle coordination and other disabilities. Movement and motor skills are affected preventing the ability to move in a coordinated way. CP is usually caused by brain damage before birth or as a toddler. “And I consider myself lucky in a way, by not being worse off, having to use a wheelchair and slurring my speech.” Christian recalls having his knees bent and almost stuck together they were so close to each other and having to walk on tip toes producing in-growing toe nails… “So I went through a few operations to improve all of that, on my ankles and right arm also, which helped me get around much more easily. My last operation was for my hamstrings in 1995.” Christian’s visits to the theatre, it could be said, were accompanied by Dr Malik at St Bernard’s Hospital to whom is very grateful.”
But it’s not all plain sailing. Determination plays an important role in keeping active and in Christian’s case, pretty mobile – strength of mind, willpower or whichever titles you prefer to use, are needed and Christian has a heavy dose of those attributes which have helped him no end; “I first trained at the Jumper’s gym and for the past three years have been going to Atlantic Suites for about an hour or so three times a week tackling proper exercises. Before that I had a lot of physiotherapy, with Gail Smith who was very good. She said I was disciplined and I think I’ve kept that up.” There’s no doubt Christian has benefitted from his physio sessions, training and also, most importantly perhaps, from his positive and determined attitude regarding his condition. He can access most places on foot, no real problem with stairs – although a hand rail helps – but he has difficulty tackling hills. “But what I enjoy most is training, I love it! There are some difficulties of course, I have a problem with handwriting but I’m ok with a laptop or computer. Co-ordination and memory can be confusing when going from one place to another until I’ve done it a few times.” However Christian had no problem meeting me in Jury’s for this interview; Jury’s is where I’ve met him in the past coming in for a meal on his own…not an issue for 36 year old Christian!
So how does Christian feel he fits in with society as a person with a disability? Initially schooling was at St Martin’s Special School, where he first met Priscilla Sacramento who helped him progress and who became a great friend. He then moved on to mainstream Bishop Fitzgerald School which became a little complicated… “I think teachers found it difficult to cope as did I, running a mainstream class and having to assist me as best they could. I was spending my weeks in half mainstream and half special unit tuition and I found that frustrating; I wanted to learn. There was never a problem communicating with other kids in the classroom and I was never bullied, quite the contrary.” Christian then moved to Bayside Comprehensive which was more accommodating for someone with a disability… “Oh yes, I attended the Special Unit there and enjoyed discussions which come under the Personal Social and Health Education curriculum – PSHE for short. Later on I moved to the College of Further Education where I found there was a lot of time wasting not knowing what I was meant to be doing. I did however get some help from one of the tutors who got me into word processing, so it wasn’t all bad. Through the college, I spent some time at Gib Nynex, involved in stock taking and general administration work but during all of that period I have to say I felt a bit ignored.” 15 years old and time to get out and find a proper job! And Christian was determined to do just that. “Bernard Linares, who was the Minister for Education at the time, assisted me quite a bit and got me back into Bayside – working, this time! That was 1998 and for the past 20 years or so I’ve been looking after the school library as a Library Assistant and I enjoy being there.”
Young Mr Falzun’s social life, he tells me, is a full social life with no complaints. “I do have friends and we go out and have fun.” Christian assures me he’s not averse or unenthusiastic about female company either… “Of course I’m interested in the opposite sex, people like me have needs and there may be a lady I have my eye on who I see from time to time, so we’ll see what develops there. Only time will tell, no?” Music is another interest Christian has and he’s dabbled in performing, singing on stage – I’ve seen him! “Yes, Michael Jackson was my hero and I used to sing two of his songs, Ben and Man in the Mirror. These days I’m really into Pink Floyd, Guns `n’ Roses, Bob Marley and Oasis amongst others, and I wouldn’t mind forming a group if anyone out there is interested.” Christian has also performed alongside Adrian Pisarello – not a bad influence! Manchester United has to be mentioned of course. That’s his favourite team and his favourite local politician is Sir Joe Bossano… “My grandfather was Emilio Hurtado who played a part in the local workers’ union and that has had a part to play I think, in my interest in local politics.”
Well I feel Christian senses he’s a little green at present for getting involved in the business of putting the world right in our little town so that’ll have to go on the back burner for now…Music I think, could fill in the gaps during his down time, socialising and `keeping an eye out for what’s out there,’ if you get the `general picture’ of where I’m coming from! Understandably to a point, there is something that’s not uncommon amongst the able bodied when coming across disabled individuals – we always tend to want to help: “By and large I can get around quite well and although grateful, I don’t really need any assistance unless coming across a major obstacle, but it’s all very much appreciated.” What I’ve learned from individuals like Christian – and I’ve met a few – it’s that word: they don’t like to be `patronised.’ “Apart from that,” Christian maintains, “It’s all appreciated and we realise it’s offered in good faith so thanks to all.”
Christian Falzun is down to earth, confident – whilst fully aware of his limitations – happy and very grateful for his mum and dad’s support from day one. Oh, and not forgetting Priscilla and Henry’s encouragement throughout!