by Jess Venlet
Mary Free Bed launched a new advertising campaign June 1. This post is the first in a series of the rehabilitation and recovery stories of all the real Mary Free Bed patients featured in our new commercials and billboards.
Just moments after I say, “Thank you, Maria. Bye.” and end our phone call, I begin to write down words to describe Maria Penland. These are the adjectives that resulted: Happy. Confident. Joyful. Thankful. Outgoing. Role model.
Maria is one of the Mary Free Bed patients featured in the new “to be continued” advertisement campaign. When Maria found out she was going to be featured she was beyond thrilled. In fact, Maria noted that, “[this] was one of the greater moments of [her] life.” For Maria, it was an honor to represent Mary Free Bed because the hospital has made such a positive impact on her life.
In 1970, when Maria was only five years old, she lost her hand in an accident with a cheese grinder. From that point on she came to Mary Free Bed for therapy. Though she doesn’t remember specifics from her visits, she remembers the overwhelming feeling of hope that Mary Free Bed therapists inspired in her.
“They were very good to me,” Mary said. “I looked forward to my visits because they spent time with me, and made me feel so comfortable.”
Of course, it’s not easy to be a kid who is different. For a few years Maria wore a hook, but when she found out she would get an artificial hand she was ecstatic. That made her disability easier to live with, and she was able to join the cheerleading team. Maria still comes to Mary Free Bed on a yearly basis to replace the glove on her prosthesis.
As I listened to Maria share her story, I could tell that she has never allowed herself to dwell on her disability. She emphasized Mary Free Bed’s role in the development of her positive attitude. As she said, “[Mary Free Bed] truly instilled self confidence in me by teaching me to work with what I have and to make the best of it.”
And Maria’s confidence is being fully used today at Ridgeview Elementary School where she is a teacher’s assistant. She loves working with young children, and helping them understand that people with disabilities are still able to do things. “Can’t” just isn’t a part of Maria Penland’s vocabulary. Having a disability changed her life, but it didn’t stop her life.
Maria wanted to share this advice to anyone beginning therapy: “Go all the way. Don’t ever say you can’t. Keep trying. It’s possible. Stay positive. Bottom line is, you can do it if you want it bad enough.”