Think of the planning, efforts, and commitment involved in hiking. Just a walk up and down a mountain path requires the right footwear, water, healthy snack food, and optimal physical conditioning. To climb a mountain - say, Mt. Kilimanjaro - add time and equipment, and make sure you are exceptionally well-conditioned.
Anna Gualano made the trek to Kilimanjaro's summit, and she had everything a successful climber needed. However, she also has something most people don't: Anna suffers from osteogenesis imperfecta (OI), or brittle bone disease.
"Doctors suspected a bone condition when x-rays taken shortly after my birth showed that I had fractured my legs in utero," Anna said. "Shortly after I was born, doctors predicted that I would never walk, live on my own, or attend a mainstream school. After my diagnosis was made, a doctor handed me to my mother and said only, 'be careful.'"
Good thing the doctor didn't say, "And don't even think about letting that child climb a mountain."
"After a series of difficult surgeries from which I was slow to heal, I set a goal for myself to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. I trained for three years and was able to make the climb with my father in September 2010," Anna said. "While not everyone with OI can physically climb to the summit of Kilimanjaro, or would want to, I think the important thing is to believe that nothing is impossible if you have the drive and creativity to make it happen."
Continually testing her own limitations, and following a certain doctor's advice to stay active, Anna said her mobility and attitude were buffeted by regular exercising, walking, and swimming. She credited Dr. Kurt Neimann, and her own parents, as her inspirations in meeting the challenges of having OI.
Demonstrating her commitment to helping others with the same condition, Anna nominated herself to the OI Foundation Board of Directors, and has served since 2005. In addition to promoting awareness and education, she assists with providing support for others with OI and encouraging research. She organized a fundraiser last year that made more than $30,000, all of which will benefit the OI Foundation. Recently, Anna served as a consumer peer reviewer for OI research grants submitted to the 2010 Peer Reviewed Medical Research Program.
"As an individual with a disability, the CDMRP application review process was valuable for me because I was able to interact with and learn from the scientific researchers who hope to develop treatments for bone and related disorders," Anna said. "I had an opportunity to provide input regarding new research that could have a significant impact on the lives of individuals with disabilities."