Santina Muha – Ambition to Succeed and Dream
by Zen Garcia, Winder, GA
Santina Muha graduating from Rutgers University
Santina Muha, Marcie Roth, and Marilyn Hamilton at the NSCIA Summit
Santina's grandmother (Nonna), Santina and Santina’s godson, Lukas, on Christmas day
The afternoon of March 9th, 1989 found 5 year old Santina Muha heading to the pediatrician’s office for chicken pox with her mother and grandmother, when suddenly their Ford Escort was hit headlong by an oncoming station wagon. Santina’s grandmother sustained arm and hand injuries which forced her into early retirement, while her mother acquired a knee injury and upon impact bit out her molar. Santina sustained a spinal cord injury at the T10/T11 level.
She spent the next three months in intensive care at Robert Wood Johnson hospital in New Brunswick, NJ, then three more months in the pediatric ward. She spent her 6th birthday having a rod surgically fused to her spine for stabilization. She then spent another two and a half months in rehabilitation at a Children’s Specialized Hospital in Mountainside, NJ, becoming familiar with her new way of being.
“Transitioning into a world of living with disability brings many changes,” Santina says. “How you live at home, how you go out into the world, how you see people and how people see you. You lose a great deal of freedom and are very frustrated at the obstacles you are now challenged with. You have to learn how to re-invent just about everything you do.” Having been so young when initially injured, Santina held a childlike optimism about her new stance on life. Being a person with a disability did not mean that she couldn’t hold positive hopes and dreams about life and its possibilities or that she should associate negative connotations with the wheelchair she would now need to maintain her independence. “Luckily, I was blessed with intelligence and have always had an open and outgoing personality. Combined with my ambition and drive and family and friends to motivate me, I have pushed myself to acquire the education and skills necessary for entering the work force, obtaining internships, joining groups, and making sure that when the time came, I would be ready and qualified to excel in the work force.”
Santina graduated from Rutgers University in January 2006 with a degree in Communication and Sociology. She was now ready to begin a journey which would lead her into her dream job of working in the media or entertainment field. Not long after her graduation, while attending an Abilities Expo in Edison, New Jersey, Santina met Marcie Roth, the National Spinal Cord Injury Association's CEO/Executive Director and Eric Larson, the Chief Operating Officer for NSCIA.
Santina mentioned her recent graduation and asked if she could submit some freelance writing for their publication – SCI Life. A month later she received a phone call asking her to draft an article, which led to the successful publication of her first piece about NSCIA's involvement in assisting survivors of the Katrina disaster. Santina’s next piece—"Public Accessibility Makes Gains"—made the cover of the very next issue and centered on the responsibility of businesses to observe and uphold the vision of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
In July of 2006 NSCIA offered Santina a job as a Communications Associate, a position which she still holds today. Her duties include writing for all association publications, including SCI Life and NSCIA e-News; working with staff and vendors to coordinate the overall design, content development, and production of NSCIA advertising, public relations, and promotional activities; and coordinating the flow and function of the organization’s website, www.spinalcord.org.
Santina is able to work from home, which allows her certain luxuries not often found in the standard 9 to 5 routine. After morning stretches, a cup of warm tea, and a few moments with her pet dog Simon, she makes the commute to her living room office, where she promptly answers all awaiting email and begins the process of conjuring up her muse to seek the inspiration necessary to perform the work of her writing. She often conducts interviews, either in person or on the phone in both video and audio formats. “Interviewing interesting and great people is one of the best parts of my job!” she enthuses.
She has met and interviewed the who’s who of the disability world, such as Congressman Jim Langevin of Rhode Island; Brooke Ellison, the vent-dependent woman from New York who recently ran State Senate; Eleanor Smith of Concrete Change, a pioneering disability rights advocate who founded the idea of "visitability;" and Mark Johnson, the Shepherd Center's Director of Advocacy and most recent recipient of the Henry B. Betts Award. She has also met others great advocates, including Bob Kafka, who, along with wife Stephanie Thomas, are New Mobility’s People of the Year for 2007 and the strongest driving forces of the grassroots disability rights group ADAPT. Santina has also met with Yoshiko Dart, widow of Justin Dart, the “father of the Americans with Disabilities Act;" Marilyn Hamilton, Quickie Wheelchair founder and current Vice President of Global Strategic Planning for Sunrise Medical; Jim Ward, founder and President of ADAWatch.org who is currently conducting the Road to Freedom Bus Tour with Tom Olin; American soul singer Teddy Pendergrass; and American journalist John Hockenberry.
Santina and I will be working together on the production of “SCI News and Views,” which we will be hosting through EndeavorFreedom.tv. She will anchor a bi-weekly or monthly news show on disability related happenings combined with important interviews and events of her daily life. “Through EF.TV, I hope to expand my media outreach, documenting different exciting events important to the world. I hope to travel, so that I can meet even more interesting people, and learn while I educate and inform. I look forward to helping to bring a ‘face’ to spinal cord injury and will try to inspire people on a national level, doing outreach to the people who need it the most,” Santina says. “By becoming a part of this project, I am able to pursue the career of my dreams in media and entertainment, while sending out a positive message. Ultimately, it is my hope that EF.TV will help make the world a better place in which to live, especially for those with disabilities.”
An ambitious and motivated spirit, Santina also became the first person to use a wheelchair on "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" She was one of 12 people selected out of 2000 to take part in their Pop Culture Week and won $16,000 dollars while on the show. When asked, “What kind of advice can you give to others who desire to re-enter the workforce?” She replied, “After sustaining a spinal cord injury, I believe it is important NOT to think, ‘I can't accomplish X, Y and Z,’ but rather ‘HOW am I going to accomplish X, Y and Z?’ and go from there. Whatever your passion is, it can be done. You may have to do it differently than you would have without a spinal cord injury, but if you want it bad enough and try hard enough, you can do it. I truly believe the saying, ‘What doesn't kill us makes us stronger.’ I also believe it is very important to be involved in the work force, as it allows you to be a productive member of society, which ultimately gives a sense of purpose. So do what you love, and do it the best you can. That's all anyone can ask.”