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Two women with same diagnosis live life to its fullest

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"A strong woman is a woman determined to do something others are determined not be done." - Marge Piercy

Think of a successful woman in history. Who comes to mind? Most likely you will recall such women as Florence Nightingale, pioneer of modern nursing, Clara Barton, founder of the Red Cross, or Victoria Woodhull, the first woman to run for U.S. president.

What did all of these women have in common? They had challenges set in front of them that would prohibit most people from moving forward. However, they had a drive and a dream of what could be for the betterment of their world. They were visionaries.

Women such as these have made their mark in history. They have shown the power of womanhood and continue to inspire greatness in women today. Whether on a small or grand scale, the impact women can have in our world is to be celebrated.

Carma Smidt and Jackie Heinz are two such examples of modern women whose accomplishments are to be praised.

Smidt, 30, lives in the small northwestern Iowa town of Sibley. A 1999 graduate of Dordt College, she recently completed her Masters in Creative Writing from the University of South Dakota. Holding a fondness for the power of the written word, Smidt now works as a staff writer for the local Sibley newspaper and a freelance editor for a Christian publishing company. Always on the go, Smidt finds her days filled with attending meetings, interviewing subjects, and writing and editing articles. When she is not working, Smidt can be found traveling. From Vancouver, British Columbia, to the Gulf of Mexico, Smidt brings joy with her wherever she goes.

Heinz, 29, lives with her husband on a farm outside of the eastern Iowa town of Independence. She is, however, no ordinary “farm wife.” After graduating from the University of Northern Iowain 2004 with a health promotion and dance degree, she set her eyes on the company for whom she herself had previously danced. In 2008, Heinz purchased Kinetic Energy, a dance studio open to anyone ages 3 to adult. Heinz proudly boasts of the studio’s success, now located in the cities of Cedar Falls, Waverly, and most recently, Independence.

So, what is so inspiring about these two seemingly average American women? The answer lies in them being anything but average.

Shortly after birth, both women were diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy(SMA2), a condition caused by the loss of nerve cells in the spinal cord which affects the control of voluntary muscle movement. This seemingly debilitating disease is known to cause weakness most severely “in muscles closest to the center of the body, such as those of the shoulders, hips, thighs, and upper back,” according to the Muscular Dystrophy Association. With additional complications of respiratory weakness and spinal curvature, SMA2 can drastically impact the quality of a diagnosed individual’s life. Thankfully, progression of this disease is slow.

Smidt, whose older sister has the same diagnosis, is unable to sit upright on her own. Lacking muscle mass in her body, she relies on various types of assistance. This comes in the form of a reclining wheelchair, nightly BiPapregimens, voice activated computer, and 24 hour personal attendant to assist with activities of daily living. Throughout her life, Smidt has also endured multiple bouts of pneumonia, an illness especially difficult for those with neuromuscular disease. In spite of her situation, positivity remains.

As she states in her personal blog, “When I was young, I never dreamed of celebrating my 30th birthday. With countless pneumonias and infections, I quickly learned to enjoy my healthy days and to endure the difficult days. There were numerous times when I didn’t talk about my life in terms of years—but in terms of days. During those times, I remember my simple plea: ‘I want to do things.’”

And do things she has. From riding in a van two hours each way for each of her Masters Degree courses, to riding on a motorcycle, Smidt lets nothing stand in her way of meeting her goals.

Approaching the world with a similar attitude is Heinz. Like Smidt, Heinz has family members who also received the same diagnosis. SMA2 did not impact Heinz in the same manner as Smidt, however. Heinz is able to sit upright, use a power wheelchair, and drive a modified handicapped accessible vehicle. This mobility has allowed her to travel and motivate others outside of her home.

In 2004, Heinz won the title of Miss Wheelchair Iowa. As an advocate for individuals with disabilities, she used the next 12 months to travel the state, working to open more avenues for people with disabilities. Now also owning her own business, Heinz is the epitome of success in spite of challenges.

She has taken what she has learned as a disabled woman and applied it to Kinetic Energy. “We integrate all abilities,” says. Nobody is let off the hook in Heinz’s regime, however. Her most advanced students practice four nights a week for two hours per night.

Having never met each other, these two women have equally taken their internal arts and changed the world around them. Their impact can be seen in the eyes of children and adults alike who know their stories of triumph. It can be seen in the focus of their healthcare professionals who continuously motivated by these women’s sheer tenacity. And, it can be seen by the pride of their parents who support and push them in their goals.

In the words of Smidt, this disease “has taught me determination and patience. My disability may rob me of many things, but it will not steal my zest for living!

For more information, please visit these sites:

Spinal Muscular Atrophy Type 2

Kinetic Energy School of Movement and Music

Miss Wheelchair Iowa

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