Three Feet are Better Than None

Jessica KladermanEditor-in-Chief

When most people wake up in the morning, before they even reach over to check their phone, the first thing they do is stretch their arms and legs until they feel their stiff limbs wake up too. For Broward College alumni Liana McCrea, waking up to her chronic illness is like something out of a horror movie.

“Every day it feels like a cattle prod in my shoulder and razor blades in my back, which affect my movement and basic self-agency. Brain fog and ADD affect my concentration and cognitive ability,” explains McCrea, who first experienced paralysis on April 10, 2019.

McCrea attended Broward College from 2012 to 2015, and again from 2017-2018, dedicating the first two and a half years of her college career to the school in the Criminal Justice program. She was also involved in the Information Technology, IT, program. Her goal was to acquire her Bachelor of Applied Science in Information Technology and eventually become an IT Project Manager, someday dreaming to own her own business.

“I was devastated after a conversation with a professor who advised me to return to BC when I became ‘more stable’ – in turn, I increased my workload to support my family, and tucked my dreams away until a later date. I later became paralyzed from the waist down and began to adjust to a new life of dealing with what would later be a slew of chronic illnesses,” said McCrea about her final days at BC.

Since leaving BC and experiencing total paralysis from the waist down, not once but twice, McCrea has had quite the load on her plate. Between battling for disability recognition and learning about business continuity in her spare time, she has had to navigate two rare conditions: Functional Neurological Disorder (FND) and Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS).

“Sometimes I can’t walk. Sometimes I have difficulty speaking and when I do, my face is disfigured, and my speech is slurred. Communication can be difficult. I now walk with a cane, but three feet are better than none! I’ve learned how to cope with intermittent bouts of self-agency. Each day is a new day, and symptoms come and go, so I am learning to appreciate each moment and build the community I haven’t found for myself in Cybersecurity,” McCrea said about what living with chronic illnesses has taught her.

“I performed a talk for DEF CON 29’s Career Hacking Village, becoming the first member of the Gullah Geechee Nation (the Gullah Geechee people that make up the sovereign nation are descendants of the first generation of African slaves, taken to America for their blacksmithing skills, in the Sea Island area extending from South Florida to North Carolina) to produce a Cybersecurity based talk in an industry where the percentage of Black and Indigenous individuals is less than the phalanges on my baby hand,” McCrea continues.

In both the IT industry and the world of academia there is always more work to do in terms of inclusivity and creating access for people with disabilities. “I would like to see more organizations geared towards the Disabled Community at BC. Broward County has such a beautiful culture of foods, sounds and people and if we can bring that all together in the name of outreach and education, my heart would swell,” said McCrea.

To anyone who may be struggling with chronic illness or advocating for their mental and physical health, McCrea has this to say, “Do NOT be afraid to be yourself. You take a risk in life every day, so why not take a risk on yourself and tell your story?”

BC’s Seahawk Outreach Services team works to provide access to necessities like food and hygiene items, student counseling services and community support like legal aid. There are a couple inclusive education programs available, Navigating Education for Student Transition, or NEST, as well as the College Preparatory Transition Deferment Program. To learn more about Broward College’s accessibility please click here to visit the website.

Broward College Alum Liana McCrea, photo courtesy of her as well.