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My name is Martin Davis, and I was born with spina bifida and hydrocephalus. But above all, I was born a fighter. Throughout my life I have had many surgeries, doctor visits, hospital stays, and complications.  I know many of you have gone through a similar journey; yet, what unites us more than our battles is an organization that guides us through the complicated maze of living with these types of birth defects.

The Walter E. Boehm Birth Defect Center has been the biggest support system - other than my family, of course - that has blessed my life.  It is not just an organization that provides funds, medical care, counseling or meal vouchers, it is an extended family, supporting us when times are tough and celebrating when times are good.  

My parents' lives changed forever when I was born with a neural tube defect. They already had two children who were born without birth defects, so they were scared about my diagnosis and worried about my future. Luckily, The Boehm Center led the way, shaping the path of where and who I am in life today.

In 2000, my life changed forever when I became a candidate for a fairly new surgery called MACE, which stands for a lot of fancy medical terms that I did not care to understand at the time. The only words I heard were: NO MORE DIAPERS! Up until this point going to school was hard. I was in 3rd grade and still wearing diapers. After the 12-hour surgery, I spent an entire month in the hospital, but when I left the doors of the hospital I went home in normal undergarments, something I never thought I would ever do!

The months following surgery consisted of many hurdles.  When I started school that August, I was worried. I never actually made close friends with any of the kids at school, but the surgery was a fresh start. However, I faced many setbacks.  My parents, doctors, and the Boehm Center staff knew that ultimately it was going to take time.  Patience is something that I had to learn early on, because my entire life I was told things will be "normal one day, you just have to be patient."  Ultimately, the school accommodated my unique needs. Of course, the kids asked questions, but I had become an expert at dodging questions.

I had spent my entire life dodging who I was, because I had no idea how to explain what I have, especially to a bunch of adolescents. Today, I am finally able to talk openly and confidently about my condition. When I was accepted into college, I made it a goal to be more open about my disability.  This has turned into something bigger than I intended.  I have told my story to high school friends and even spoke to a UTC nursing class about my disability.  Seven months ago, I started volunteering at the Boehm Birth Defects Center during clinic and have been able to share stories with patients and offer glimpses of hope in times that seem so dark. Volunteering has also really put things into perspective about what my parents and other parents had to go through during the infant years. It has been eye-opening to see the broad range of clients: new parents with babies, preteens - some in wheelchairs and others who are trying out for sports team, as well as others in their 20s, 30s, and even older living life as normal as possible with the support of this organization.

Every day, I am thankful for such an amazing staff, including the doctors who volunteer their time so our lives can be better.  The Boehm Center is a non-profit organization, so they need us just as much as we need them.  I urge everyone to give back in any way they can - whether in the form of a donation, volunteering your time, or educating others by sharing your story.  

To the patients reading this, I encourage you to keep fighting. To new or expecting parents of children with spina bifida or hydrocephalus: Congratulations - you are about to give birth to a fighter. To our community friends and donors: Thank you for giving to an organization that has made a positive difference in my life and others.

Website funded in partnership with Unum

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975 E. 3rd Street Chattanooga, TN 37403     PH (423) 778-2222   F (423) 778-6191