On Wednesday, January 30 students at Lulu Ross Elementary school attended an assembly discussing the importance of accepted people that appear to be different. At an age where children are very impressionable, LuLu Ross Elementary School Counselor Jay Lingo introduced Donal Lanspery, a digital amputee, to share with the children information about his disability and how he has overcome that disability to be able to perform every day activities.
“Just because people are different we want to get to know how they are on the inside before we decide if we want to be friends with them,” said Mr. Lingo addressing a gym full of second graders. “You never want to judge a book by its cover.”
Mr. Lanspery began by introducing his friend Traverse, who he met through the RSVP Big Bother Big Sister mentor organization. In addition to being a mentee to Mr. Lanspery, Traverse also joins Mr. Lanspery as he promotes disability awareness in classrooms throughout the Milford School District.
Donald Lanspery has been a digital amputee since 1999 when he had all of his fingers and toes removed from complication of an illness. Feeling very sick after teaching swimming lessons one evening, Donald called his doctor and was rushed to the nearest hospital. While in transport, he went into a coma which would last three weeks. During that time, all of Mr. Lanspery’s organs stopped working except for his heart and he was given a 10% chance to survive. Unable to be stabilized for transport to John Hopkins Hospital, due to gangrene in his extremities, his family decided to amputate his fingers and toes in order to save Donald’s life.
What was later diagnosed as septicemia, a bacterial blood infection, Mr. Lanspery would have to relearn how to live his life without any fingers or toes. Nine months of therapy and unconditional determination were necessary for Donald to begin to walk, talk and perform daily activities for himself.
Telling the story behind his disability to the elementary students was the first step in bringing light to disability awareness to the children. Mr. Lanspery explained to the students that his therapist was the individual that helped him return to a state of normalcy by creating tools that he used to perform every day tasks such as getting dressed, playing cards and driving.
“Talking about the devices I use in everyday life and how I am able to do things I never thought I would be able to do before is my favorite part of the discussion,” commented Mr. Lanspery. “I share with them to keep trying and do not say that you cannot do something, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.”
Within a year after his amputation and recovery, Donald began visiting schools where he lived in Maryland to talk about disability awareness. Reading in his local Baltimore newspaper about a state funded program that brought disabled individuals into area classrooms, he called the organization and was invited to observe. When the program was short one speaker on the day he showed up, Donald took the opportunity to speak to the children and has continued his disability awareness in classrooms ever since.
Living in Harrington now, Mr. Lanspery has visited Milford School District classrooms for three years and has seen hundreds of local children.
“To me, being disabled is about educating people about what you can do,” stated Mr. Lanspery. “I feel I can be a role model to these kids to show it can be done, sometimes just differently. They may know someone in their life that is disabled and they can now connect and share with them about my experiences.”