Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Ole Miss Student Seth Dickinson: Overcoming “You Can’t”

Seth Dickinson reads at the Honors College. (Photo/Ariyl Onstott)

On March 14, 2015, Seth Dickinson dreamed of becoming the future governor of Mississippi.
On March 15, 2015, Seth Dickson laid on the floor, his speech slurring, his head pounding, fighting for his life.
For many, March brings the promise of springtime, and the relief of spring break. But for a small-town Mantachie, Mississippi native, March brings the anniversary of the hemorrhagic stroke that nearly took his life, leaving him paralyzed and mute.
It was a normal night at home for the Ole Miss freshman. Seth was thriving in his second semester of classes and enjoying the time off during spring break. He was working out when his head started pounding. He went upstairs to his room and was talking to a friend on the phone when his speech began to slur. “Call your mom,” the friend said. Five minutes later, Seth lay on the floor dying.
Until March 24, Seth was comatose, “I remember waking up and becoming cognizant again, and them telling me they had to withdraw me from Ole Miss—and that hurt a lot more than the pumps and the IVs, being told I wasn’t going back to school,” he said.
From the moment he awoke, Seth was trapped in his own body. Gone were the skills we take for granted like reading, writing and speaking. Facing the emotion and frustration of not being the same 18-year-old he once was was the greatest challenge for Seth. “I knew I was going to get back,” he said.
Two days after being taken off the ventilator, Seth was flown to the Shepherdson Center in Atlanta for rehab and testing. On the first day, they evaluated his chances for recovery. “On a scale from 1-100, with zero being nothing and one hundred being ‘you’re perfectly able,’ I was a 4,” he said.
After the doctors told him he may never walk again, Seth’s stubborn personality came to the fore. He said, “The next morning, I woke up and had my nurse put me in a wheelchair and said, ‘Roll me to the mirror.’ She asked why, but I said, ‘Roll me to the mirror.’ She did. I looked at the mirror, I looked myself in the eye and asked what every Ole Miss student asks every time, ‘Are you ready?’ And in therapy that day, I answered with a ‘Hell yeah, damn right.’”
What transpired over the course of four months was nothing short of a miracle due in no small part to Seth’s resilient nature. Within a few days of waking up from the stroke, he regained his ability to write, later, his ability to speak. A few days after looking at himself in the mirror, Seth moved his legs. A month later, he was able to walk. Within four months, he was mobile once again. For every “You can’t,” Seth could.
Seth’s freshman roommate and good friend, Drew Hall witnessed Seth’s transition. “I think Seth, like any other person with any type of disability, had to overcome stereotypes and doubt from other people. During every step of his recovery, he was confident in his ability to get better and make progress, but other people were less confident due to the nature of his injury. Between doctors, family, and friends, Seth fought an uphill battle throughout his recovery process,” he said.
As Seth says, he was racing against himself, but it was a marathon.
Seth now knows his stroke was caused by a brain aneurysm. He was born with an arteriovenous malformation deep in his brain. Essentially, it is a tumor made of arteries and veins that his brain grew around. He never knew he had it until the aneurysm ruptured that night in March.
Today, two years later, his fine motor skills and coordination continue to be a work-in-progress. Seth walks with a slight limp. When he smiles, the right corner of his mouth is happier, lifting a little more than the left. His left arm does not swing as naturally at his side as his right—all vestiges of the stroke that nearly took his life.
Yet, if you ask him, Seth does not accept the finality of ‘disabled.’ “I consider myself challenged at times, but I find it terribly selfish of myself to say I’m disabled, because I have recovered to a point. I’m differently abled in a way that I am recovering still, but for the rest of my life I will never take the moniker of ‘disabled,’” he said.
However, despite his rejection of being known as disabled, this public policy major has gained a newfound appreciation for advocating for the rights of the disabled. When Seth came back to campus in the spring of 2016, he soon realized the difficulties of navigating the campus—even with something as simple as a cane. “We are, of course, known as the most beautiful campus, but unfortunately, beauty is only skin deep. The university is making progress, but the sidewalks are not always even. Where we have the curb cuts, the sidewalks are not always flat. To me, the hardest part was when it would rain, and things would flood.”
Seth noticed that many of the accessible entrances to buildings were hidden or not as obvious. “It’s hidden because it’s not pretty,” he said. Seth hopes that the university will continue to improve its accessibility image as much as its beautiful campus image.
The combined experiences of the past two years have reshaped Seth’s life plans. He still plans to go to law school, but now, “future governor of Mississippi” has changed to “healthcare administrator in Mississippi.”
Before the stroke, he did not consider himself a champion of disability rights. “I always had friends who were disabled, and I would think to myself, ‘Oh, poor them,” without thinking of the perspective, ‘what if that were me?’”
Now, however, Seth thinks of himself as someone who is, if not a champion of disability rights, is someone “who is giving his damnedest.”
In overcoming “you can’t,” Seth hopes to improve rehabilitative care in Mississippi. “Diversity to me, in this regard, is not just making sure everyone gathers at the same table, but everyone has a way to get to the same table. And that’s my mantra moving forward, is giving everyone equal opportunity to have a voice.”
Story contributed by Ariyl Onstott (aonstott@go.olemiss.edu).