Courage To Come Back: Medical award recipient says lives like hers are worth living

Despite her challenges, Monica Gartner of Burnaby says her life is worth living. 

Our series of Courage To Come Back profiles concludes with a look at the recipient of the Medical award.

“I wasn’t supposed to live past one,” she said. “When I was a baby, my parents had to handle me very carefully. For the first three years of my life, I was carried around on a board so that they wouldn’t squish me too tight when they were holding me in their arms.”

Monica was born with Osteogenesis Imperfecta or OI — also known as Brittle Bone Disease — a condition that has filled her life with challenges, most of which she has overcome.

One of those challenges is travel. Monica created the non-profit Canadian Assisted Travel Society so people like her, who can’t afford a caregiver, can go to a conference, educational seminar, cultural exchange, or even a vacation without worry.

“Even though I’m fully functional myself, I can’t transfer myself on an aeroplane. I need someone to physically pick me up and carry me and put me on the seat and I have to put pillows on the seat because I’m rather petite, three feet one and a half inches tall,” she said.

“So, that’s how the Canadian Assisted Travel Society was born. It was born out of a personal need.”

Another challenge is increasing the representation of disabled people in TV and film. Monica has taken acting classes and even has an agent.

“I’ve been in a television show called The Now. That was a really cool and fun experience and I hope to do more of that in the future,” she said. “So, anytime when someone said I couldn’t do something, I tried to think outside the box. How can I do the same thing, but in a different way?”

Monica endured a lot of pain as a child, from breaking her bones more than 500 times and endless surgeries to emotional pain from bullying. When she was younger, she couldn’t do much on her own – requiring help for even the most basic of tasks like going to the washroom or getting into bed. 

Today, Monica can do more than she ever thought possible. As she puts it, being disabled is a state of mind, not a state of being.

“It’s sad to see that some people, they go through a traumatic event, and they think it’s the end of their life,” she said. “And, it doesn’t have to be the end of your life.  At the end of the day, I take a deep breath and I go, ‘Okay, well, what can we do to make things better?  What can I do to move forward?'”        

Gartner was hit by a car – twice – and fell out of her wheelchair while home alone. But she pushes through it all. Her message is perseverance.

“Don’t let one event or two events stop you,” she said. “You can keep going. You can move on to the next part of your life … just a little bit different.”

Last year, she nearly died from an overdose while being treated in the hospital for pneumonia. She feels nurses and doctors need to change their view of people with disabilities. She warns since Medical Assistance in Dying was legalized in 2016, lives like hers are more at risk than ever.

“That’s the whole idea behind medical intervention and medical technology.  It’s not to end it, it’s to save lives,” she said. “Yeah, I don’t want to live with pain. Who wants to live with pain? I say, kill the pain, not the person.”

CityNews is a proud sponsor of the 2024 Coast Mental Health Courage To Come Back awards, which are being handed out Thursday, May 23rd at the Vancouver Convention Centre.

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