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Chad Dismukes
UTSA alumnus Chad Dismukes

Alumnus Chad Dismukes finds new life after accident

By Julie Cooper

(June 10, 2008)--Editor's Note: This feature first appeared in the March 2008 issue of Scene in SA Monthly and is republished courtesy of the magazine.

In May, Chad Dismukes graduated from UTSA with a master's degree in social work. His goal is to work with the disabled in an advocacy role. For the 35-year-old South Texan, it is a huge step up from where he found himself in 1996; that's when a diving accident at Boerne Lake left him a quadriplegic with a C5-C6 spinal injury and a broken neck.

"I was diving off the back of my pickup truck -- attempting a shallow dive when I slipped on the bed liner and broke my neck," he recalls. The accident left him paralyzed from the chest down. He cannot move his arms and has no dexterity or feeling in his hands. Before the dive, which he had successfully made many times before, Chad (then 23) was a paramedic. He says he was familiar with those kinds of injuries.

Chad would spend the next several months at University Hospital before eventually returning to his hometown of Harlingen and life with his parents. "I was really wanting to get back here to San Antonio," he says. His research led him to the San Antonio-based Center on Independent Living (COIL).

Established in 1985, COIL guides and assists people with physical disabilities in learning how to live independently. For Chad, assistance came in the form of helping him get a place to live and getting attendant care services lined up. There also was what he calls "psycho-social counseling" with COIL, which was assisting with social identity following his injury.

"COIL helped me to realize that I still have a voice," he says. He worked with them for about a year. "They basically taught me what I needed to know? it was take it or leave it. We've given you a base line, (now) go out there and do what you need to."

Chad completed a bachelor's degree at UTSA in psychology and he got married. He met his wife, Sachiko, on the rehabilitation floor of University Hospital where they were both working, she as a student nurse and he as a paid consultant. They wed in 2000 and are new parents of twins, Tyler and Hannah, born Dec. 20.

Each morning, an attendant comes to his home to help out. "COIL taught me early-on how to interact with these individuals... that they are coming into your home (and) how to take the lead, how to tell them what you need? how not to be taken advantage of, and there is a lot of that out there," he says.

Chad says he lost contact with COIL until his first internship with the master's program. That program brought him back to a "joyful reunion with some of the people I had worked with." He is now working with COIL and several nonprofits in a public relations capacity on disability awareness for the City of San Antonio. Chad thinks that San Antonio rates high as an accessible city.

In the first years after his accident, Chad got around via a motorized wheelchair. That changed when he met an individual with similar injuries who used a manual wheelchair and was driving his own car.

"If he could do it, I could do it," he says. Now, when he moves, the chair moves. "People see me as an individual. A little more able."

After his master's degree, there is an internship to complete and then Chad hopes to land that job where he can help the disabled. "There are plenty of job opportunities, there is a great spinal cord floor at the VA here."

Looking back on the accident Chad says simply, "It was what it was." Looking forward he seems grateful for the help he got from COIL. "I think that it is important that independent living organizations such as COIL continue to get funding and community support. They have the hands-on knowledge for individuals with disabilities. They know what works and what doesn't work. All they do is lay a foundation down, and it is up to the individual if they use the information."

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Since 1985, the Center on Independent Living (COIL) has helped hundreds of people with disabilities including military veterans to achieve and maintain independence in their communities.

For more information, call Gary Demers, COIL director of PR, Web and resource development, at (210) 671-7957.

View a YouTube video on the Center on Independent Living.

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