I met Matt when he was 10-years-old. I was volunteering at an adolescent shelter while in college, and it was my first of many experiences in a youth residential facility. After receiving the proper training, I was instructed to read the files of the children and teenagers living at the shelter. Hundreds of files later, Matt’s story was still one of the most horrific and sickening experiences of abuse I had ever seen, and it still is to this date. Not only was it a miracle this child was alive, but you never would have guessed that Matt had known such violence in his short life.
"We're playing kickball today? Awesome!! I love kickball!!"
"You’re cooking chicken for dinner? Mmmm … that is gonna be so good! Woo-hoo!" (The "Woo-hoo" was always my favorite … a classic Matt word.)
Matt loved life, simply loved being alive. I’ll always remember one of my co-workers explaining to me that Matt was his shining star. It is so easy to get burnt-out in the human services field and feel hopeless…but then one kid, one shining star, comes along and makes all of your hard work worth every inch of effort.
Matt was different from most of the other kids I have worked with who have similar backgrounds. Following three years of volunteering at the shelter, I worked for four years at a residential/educational facility for youth, ages 4-19, in need. Most came from abusive situations with varying emotional, behavioral, and cognitive issues. Most felt life was not worthy of a positive attitude or the hope that their existence would ever get better. It was very hard to fault a child for his or her attitude, a child who had never known anything else in life but negativity, violence, and neglect.
Matt has always served as a role model to me, the 10-year-old boy who appreciated everything in life. Matt has helped me keep a sense of purpose and perspective during those difficult days and trying times. We all have our days when we feel sorry for what is wrong with us or what we have had to experience. I’ll admit, I have had moments when I was wondered why heart disease had to happen to me, felt overwhelmed with very emotional work and advocacy, or did not understand the scar on my chest nor the cardiac device underneath it. The image of Matt’s face in my mind snapped me right out of that attitude. Life could certainly be worse for me. The important piece is how I dealt with what life threw at me.
Our lives can prove complex, our jobs are tough, but look for those shining stars around all of us – those people or those moments that help you re-focus on the amazing life you lead or could lead. Choose to change perspective, and always remain positive.
At 17-years-old Michaela was diagnosed with LongQT Syndrome, one of the conditions responsible for causing Sudden Cardiac Arrest and claiming the lives of many young people unexpectedly. Michaela turned her obstacles into opportunities when she became Miss Massachusetts 2006 and began to speak nationally regarding SCA and heart disease. To learn more about Michaela please visit: www.michaelagagne.com .
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