2014 Best Dad on Wheels Winner Bill Timm
By: Nate Herpich
This year, the Reeve Foundation asked you to honor the special man in your life who has helped you and others grow, learn, and work toward reaching your dreams, and who also just happens to be living with paralysis.
We had a great response, hearing from friends and family members from across the country, and we're happy to announce this year's winner, Bill Timm of West Chester, Pennsylvania. Bill was nominated by his wife Melissa for being "not only a selfless, dedicated, loving husband, father, uncle, and friend, but for being our hero!"
We spoke with Bill about the challenges that he's faced throughout the past seven years of surgeries on his spinal cord, how he's found new ways to adapt, and how he embraces the most important roles in his life: that of husband and dad.
Bill, many congratulations on winning Best Dad on Wheels, 2014.
Bill Timm: Thanks very much! I remember it was on my birthday that my wife originally told me she had nominated me and that I had made the final ten, which was a great gift. Now that I've won, I told my wife and son, and it was great to see how excited they were. To me, it's more important to win this award for the excitement and joy felt by Melissa and Billy than anything else.
Tell us more about your relationship with your family.
BT: Well, more than anything, I appreciate all that they do. Family and friends have helped us to get through this, but each and every day, more than anything, Melissa and Billy have been remarkably supportive of me.
One of the main things for me is to not be a burden to my son. I want him to truly be able to do the things he likes to do. He's been great in adjusting to my condition, and he understands that dad's legs don't work.
I recently regained the ability to drive, and this has been wonderful. I can drive Billy to school in the mornings, take him to camp, and to his baseball games. It means the world for me to be able to do this.
You talk about "regaining" the ability to drive. There have actually been a lot of ups and downs in the seven years since doctors first discovered a tumor on your spinal cord. Tell us about this journey, and where you are now in your life.
BT: It started back in March of 2007, when the tumor was discovered. In April, I had surgery to remove the tumor, but complications from the surgery led to spinal meningitis, and eventually cysts formed on the thoracic region of the vertebrae. I've had five surgeries since, and each time, there's been a cycle, where my symptoms improve immediately following the procedure, but slowly worsen. Then, starting in May 2013, in less than a six-week period I went from walking, to using a cane, to using a walker, to using a wheelchair -- it happened very fast. Since last July, I've been in a wheelchair.
How has life changed in the past year?
BT: I've adjusted to my 'new normal' pretty well I think. Actually, I know this isn't the case for everyone new to a wheelchair, but for me, after seven years of challenges, it's been a relief to get one. I can do so much more now. Before, I couldn't even do much in the kitchen, but now I can get along so much better, and like I said before, I'm driving. I recently completed my first work trip in a chair, (I work for Amazon Web Services) during which I flew alone for the first time, learned to negotiate the roll-in shower in the hotel room, and I figured out how to carry my laptop on my chair.
I also love to tinker and build stuff, so I'm working on making my garage more adaptive. I'm lowering my workbenches and tools, and learning what sorts of projects I can still accomplish from my chair.
It sounds like you're adapting quickly to, as you call it, your 'new normal.' What advice would you have for others who may be adapting to 'new normals' of their own?
BT: I've always considered myself an optimist, but also a realist. The best advice I can give is not to focus on what you can't do, but instead, focus on what you can do. And think about new activities and passions that you may not have thought of before.
Personally, I love to think of solutions to problems, of ways to make things easier to accomplish, of new methods for doing things I've always liked to do. This weekend, for example, we're going to go to the beach for the first time since I've had my chair. I've gotten a second set of wheels, bigger ones, and I'm looking forward to seeing how far I can go in the sand.
And above all, I know how fortunate I am. I know people close to me who are dealing which much more serious issues than I am. I try to keep my perspective, and remember how lucky I am to have such a wonderful family.
As winner, Bill will receive a $500 gift card from Tilt-A-Rack®, producer of Mobility hitch mounted Aluminum Carriers to make the transportation of wheelchairs, and electric mobility scooters eliminating the need for trailers.