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26 Nov 2020 17:46
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  •   Home > News > International

    The budding neuroscientist and poet with cerebral palsy who wants to become a doctor

    Jerusha Mather's parents were once told she would never walk or talk, but now aged 25 she's hoping to become a doctor and help others with disabilities.


    When Jerusha was a child with cerebral palsy, doctors told her parents she would never walk or talk.

    But now aged 25, she's hoping to become a doctor herself and help others with disabilities.

    Jerusha has some challenges — her speech can sometimes be slurred, her arms and legs can make involuntary movements, she can have difficulty walking on uneven ground, and gets tired easily.

    Yet she's doing a PhD in neuroscience and has already been named one of the Australian Academy of Science's STEM Women Changemakers.

    And she's just published her first book of poetry in which she writes:

    Poetry is my swelled body that
    spills out words of ransom
    the warrior ocean of my flesh
    The mercy from my spirit
    The hidden, free truth
    The speechless utterances of my
    deep heart
    The chains in my veins cracking
    The body of my soul becoming

    As part of International Day of People with Disability, Jerusha shares her hopes for the future, her inspirations and challenges.

    Why do you write poetry?

    I love writing poetry as it gives me a way in which I can express what's in my heart and mind.

    It allows me to explore the artistic side of me and deepens my knowledge on life and humanity.

    Exploring and meditating on these deeper thoughts has made me a better person.

    In exchange, I hope my words can offer someone hope and grace.

    I've also always loved singing and playing the piano. I like a lot of songs, but my absolute favourite has to be 'Amazing Grace'.

    Why do you want to be a medical doctor?

    Most patients want doctors that understand what it's like to be in their situation.

    If I sat down, as a doctor, with someone with a disability, I could share my experiences with them.

    And hope my unique sort of empathy would make it more comfortable for those in my care.

    I want to live in a society where individuals are supported to be the best they can be, and I think seeing a scientist or a doctor with a disability should be normal.

    If I can also share my story as a motivational speaker and mentor and empower others to become doctors, scientists, or whatever they want to be, that would be a really positive thing.

    What role models inspire you?

    The person that really touched my heart the most is Dr Janice Brunstrom-Hernandez (a US paediatric neurologist with cerebral palsy). She influenced my life in a massive way.

    She started a clinic for children and adolescents with cerebral palsy. I love that she practiced medicine with humility and genuinely cared for people and saw the possibilities in them.

    Another role model and mentor in my life is Dr Thomas Strax, a doctor with cerebral palsy who won a lifetime achievement award from the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.

    I deeply admire his persistence, fortitude in character, and pure and true compassion.

    He helps motivate me and reminds me that with the same positive mindset, I can also reach for the stars and make a significant difference in my world.

    British author and ex-monk Jay Shetty has also inspired me and taught me how to master my mind, which has been really helpful.

    What does having cerebral palsy mean for you day to day?

    Cerebral palsy is a movement disorder caused by damage to the developing brain and it causes mild uncontrollable movements and my speech to be a bit slurred.

    When I was born my parents were understandably a little bit scared about how things would work out for me.

    But when I was two years old, we left Sri Lanka and came to Australia where I had speech, occupational and physical therapy that improved my condition so I was able to walk, talk, go to a mainstream school and play with my friends.

    I also became social justice captain at my school and was selected for a program at Melbourne University for high-achieving year 10 students.

    While I'm usually energetic and positive, I do fatigue a little more easily than others and this affects my walking.

    I also have difficulty writing by hand — I can write, but it's very tedious and I prefer to type.

    All this means I do things a bit differently, but I get the job done and it is usually to a high standard.

    These days I'm relatively independent and do most things on my own, although driving is not for me and I also need a little bit of help in the kitchen.

    How do you think you would manage these challenges as a doctor?

    I am trying to find ways to build strength and endurance, for example through regular exercise.

    Part-time work would be best for me and although I would like to be as autonomous as possible, I imagine I would need some support in the hospital environment.

    For example, I am quite articulate, but may need an interpreter in case someone is having trouble understanding what I am saying.

    Adaptable medical equipment would also be useful, and I may need to work closely with an occupational therapist to find creative ways to do medical tasks.

    I would need electronic medical records and forms that enable me to type information rather than take notes by hand.

    What are you studying now?

    In 2018 I graduated with honours in biomedical sciences from RMIT University and am now in the second year of a PhD in neuroscience at Victoria University.

    I was developing a clinical trial looking at whether non-invasive brain stimulation and strength training can improve strength and motor function in people with cerebral palsy.

    But due to COVID my research has switched to an online survey on barriers to exercise for adults with cerebral palsy.

    I love research and would like to work in a specialty that suits my skills.

    Where will you go from here?

    I'm passionate about working with people with disabilities and would like to become a clinician scientist and rehabilitation physician.

    But I have been unable to get into medical school so far. Most medical schools require you to pass a test that involves a lot of fast writing — and this is physically difficult for me.

    I am hoping they do give me a chance this year as it will pave the way for others.

    If I don't get in, I will pursue a career in research and keep applying to medical schools.

    There have been many challenges throughout my life, and I've developed some sense of resilience along the way.

    My parents Julius and Victoria have been very supportive of me doing whatever I wanted, and I think that has really helped me through my journey.

    I am blessed to have their support and am very grateful for their unwavering love.

    © 2020 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved


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