Daniel Vance - Disabilities

Forty-year-old Tom Stewart and his little dog had quite a scare recently.

“I was just going down to the convenience station in my electric wheelchair to get something to eat,” he said in a telephone interview from his apartment in a Midwestern state. “I took my little dog with me. The sidewalk was clear of snow to begin with, but somebody along the way hadn’t shoveled their portion of the sidewalk, and my wheelchair got stuck there.”


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Stewart has multiple sclerosis, which is a disease causing inflammation and scarring of the tissue protecting nerves, which affects body movements by disrupting communication between the brain and muscle. Scientists don’t yet know the cause, and no cure exists. Stewart has chronic progressive multiple sclerosis, meaning his condition doesn’t come and go, and he likely won’t get any better. And though he is technically legally blind from it, he can still see a bit.

“When I got stuck, I sat there for maybe half an hour trying to get out, but just couldn’t clear the snow from around my spinning tires,” he said. “I was in three inches of packed snow.”

On a major thoroughfare that Friday, he watched as dozens of cars passed him by. Finally, his little dog Pepper, likely sensing her master’s troubles in the snow and cold temperatures, eventually went out in the middle of the road and started barking at passing cars. A woman in the first car stopping rolled down her window, yelled at Stewart for not having his dog on a leash, and suddenly drove off.

He believed his 12-pound, poodle/rat terrier dog had instinctively understood his situation, and had only tried helping.

“I ended up calling 911 on my wireless telephone,” he said, “And while I was waiting there for the police, a young man finally did stop to help, which was a real blessing. It took him a while to get me out.”

Stewart has had multiple sclerosis almost twenty years. He and his dog live alone, but he has two children from a previous marriage. On most days he doesn’t have much stamina, and he especially has difficulties on colder days. He said, “I figure I have one cup of energy per day and when that cup is dry, it’s dry.”

Lastly, he added, “Tell people to remember to shovel the snow from their sidewalks.”