Gabe Chesman, who grew up in Summit, is living life “to its fullest” after a spinal cord stroke at age 21 brought his senior year at Drexel University in Philadelphia to an abrupt and life-altering halt in 2007.
This reporter visited with Gabe and his mother, who now lives in Springfield, several times in the first few years after the stroke, when friends, family, and community — including their synagogue, Temple B’nai Jeshurun in Short Hills — came to their emotional and financial aid.
During those years, although he always put a positive spin on things, a hint of resentment would sometimes surface, as Gabe described friends moving on while he remained trapped by circumstance.
Instead of college graduation, a first job, and life as a professional in a city, his milestones were moving out of intensive care and into Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation in West Orange; moving home; and getting a wheelchair and a wheelchair-accessible van. He had to figure out how to work given not only his physical limitations, but also his need for the benefits that enabled his 24-hour care, which would be wiped out if he earned too much employment income.
Chesman did get a job and started a blog. But a life even approximating the independence of his peers seemed hopelessly out of reach in 2010, the last time we met.
This February, in an e-mail to friends and family and supporters, he offers a completely different outlook, and a much-changed reality. Still paralyzed, still in his wheelchair, Gabe Chesman sounds like his 20-something peers, finding his way, sounding optimistic, setting goals, traveling, and enjoying what life has to offer.
What follows are edited excerpts from his e-mail, printed with his permission.
Since you’ve last heard from me, I spent a year living in Vancouver with my girlfriend, Meriah. For those who have never visited, I highly recommend taking a trip there; it has beautiful scenery with big green mountains, plenty of beaches and many fun neighborhoods. We lived in an area called Commercial Drive, which is known as the funky and off-beat area of Vancouver.
I would have stayed longer but alas, I am not a citizen of Canada, so the two of us picked up and moved to Seattle. We live in a cute neighborhood called Greenwood where the local coffee shops, restaurants, and stores keep us busy.
Along with enjoying our neighborhood, I continue to work full-time doing social media marketing and have started taking classes to finish my degree in Communications. Meriah has also just graduated from nursing school, passed her board exams, and will be working as a nurse soon. She was my motivation for going back to school.
[Thanking readers for their past generosity, and revealing that he is no longer in need of donations, he continues with the purchases their gifts have enabled.]
First, I was able to purchase a portable shower that can be assembled in any apartment I live in. It gives me the freedom to shower as often as I want which, in my situation, isn’t always that easy. It has been essential for me to even be able to make this move. It assembles like Lego! And can be put together in under 10 minutes!!!
Second, I got a lightweight, foldable wheelchair that allows me to go into houses that have stairs. It’s quite a nifty device. (My usual wheelchair weighs 300 lbs. and is way too heavy to carry up steps.) I have been able to attend a friend’s birthday in their home, stay with friends in Portland, and spend Christmas in Meriah’s family home.
And finally, I got a new wheelchair! It has the capability of elevating so I can be at eye level when I’m socializing. Which makes me taller than my family and almost as tall as Meriah!
The financial support you’ve given me continues to help me live life to its fullest. For this I feel very grateful.
From the bottom of my heart, thank you!