Keeping It Real: Don’s Story

Tue 11 Jun 2024

By Don Hageman

What does it feel like to have cerebral palsy (CP)? Getting asked this growing up and still today, I constantly ponder this question. Though this might seem to be a simple question about a physical disability, it’s a psychological conundrum with no simple answer. 

There are many variables, including the fact that there are several types of CP (spastic, dyskinetic, athetoid, ataxic, and mixed) and that the severity of the condition varies from person to person. 

Like many people affected by CP, I was not born with this neuromuscular condition. According to my mom, I was an emergency C-section and during my birth, my oxygen was restricted. Unfortunately, the doctors and nurses were not quick enough to restore my oxygen supply. Because of this, my brain was deprived of oxygen, and part of the motor control center suffered irreversible damage. 

This caused me to develop the most common type of CP, spastic cerebral palsy. While incurable, physical therapy is a common treatment for people with CP. Physical therapy has allowed me the opportunity to play at high levels of hockey and engage in all the other hobbies I enjoy.

My parents refused to let a disability define me. I started working for my father at the age of 14 to help support my family. I worked two part-time jobs while attending law school full-time. This presented many challenges, but challenges are meant to be overcome. Most people hear the term “cerebral palsy” and believe that the person is fully disabled and unable to do anything. 

This is not the case; many people have successful careers while living with CP. Currently, I am working as an associate attorney and love the new challenges it presents every day. Being an attorney with CP, I have become heavily involved in various cerebral palsy-related organizations locally and nationally, assuring in any way I can and sharing my experiences with cerebral palsy.

Don’s story is part of KEEPING IT REAL — a series of personal stories that will take you deeper into the lives of people with CP. Each person makes different choices based on what works for them, and we’ll showcase that — highlighting what life is like for them on a daily basis, what they care about, and the ways CP impacts them. 

The KEEPING IT REAL blog is intended solely to raise awareness about the varied human experience with cerebral palsy and shouldn’t be read or construed to contain any medical advice, medical endorsement, or other endorsement by Cerebral Palsy Alliance Research Foundation. Only you and your doctor know what’s best for you. Please consult your doctor for medical advice.

Thu 09 May 2024

Long banner with a rounded square photo of RJ on the left side. Text reads "Keeping it Real: RJ's Story, Part 2". A purple line underneath and the green cparf logo in the bottom right corner.

By RJ Nealon I often think back to that quick submission loss and tell myself that it was probably the best thing that happened to me and my journey. It forced me to take a deep hard look at myself and converse with my inner self. What do I want? What impact do I want […]

Fri 03 May 2024

Discover how RJ used Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to find and harness his personal strengths, and how it became an important part of his relationship with his cerebral palsy.