by Riley Wyant–
When Matthew Letkowitz was accepted to Virginia Tech in 2015, many people in his life doubted that he would be able to successfully live in a college environment with his disability.
“In my early childhood, I was diagnosed with an extremely rare mutation of limb-girdle muscular dystrophy (LGMD) that had never been discovered before,” said Lefkowitz.
According to the Muscular Dystrophy Association, LMGD isn’t really one disease. It’s a group of disorders affecting voluntary muscles, mainly those around the hips and shoulders. Over time, the person with LGMD loses muscle bulk and strength and he or she may need a power wheelchair or scooter.
Bound to a wheelchair, Lefkowitz knew that coming to college meant he would need an immense amount of help from individuals he never had met.
“I knew going into college initially…at the same time that I would be gaining more independence, I would almost be taking a step back,” he said. “I’m putting my life and faith in someone else’s hands.”
Lefkowitz and his family created his team in 2015 through a simple advertisement, which led him to find 14 personal care attendants. Now, in 2018, “Matthew’s Army,” as he likes to call it, has risen to 44 student personal aides purely through the means of mutual friends and word of mouth.
“Each year that it has expanded has been such a beautiful thing,” claimed Lefkowitz. “Without them, I can’t be here. I rely on them day in and day out.”
Each personal care attendant has several duties to ensure that he remains safe and comfortable. Lefkowitz likes to use the analogy of being an infant; even though he is intellectually mature, he needs all of the care that an infant would need in order to survive.
“We help bathe him, dress him, cook for him and do many other personal things but it just flows naturally,” said one of his caregivers, Sara Margaret Kelly. “He makes it feel like we are all friends helping each other and it’s no big deal.”
The student attendants are by his side 24/7 and rotate through a schedule which includes night shifts. The students also go through intensive training to learn how to care for him without injuring him.
“At first, I decided to become an attendant for Matthew because I want to go into physical therapy after college,” said another student aide, Alexa Rose. “But through getting to know him, I realized that it’s much more than just getting experience for grad school applications. He’s now one of my closest friends.”
For many other students, this experience has become more than just a job.
“This experience has been so rewarding because of who Matthew is,” said another student caregiver, Cyma Mounzer. “We almost never talk about his disability because he has the best attitude and acts like any other student.”
For Lefkowitz, the help he has gotten from his team has made all the difference and has given him new inspiration to attend grad school. “Now, there isn’t anything or anyone saying I can’t achieve that, so why not go for it? I have the best support system there is.”