BROWNSVILLE, Texas (AP) — To hear him tell it, Ismael Cavazos isn't unlike thousands of others in Cameron County trying to find a job, but that belies, in many ways, his condition.
That's because for the last 33 years, Cavazos has been paralyzed from the neck down and largely confined to a bed.
But through technology provided by the Texas Department of Assisted and Rehabilitative Services, he will soon be hunting for a job and, with a little luck, proving to himself and others that his disability doesn't impact his ability to earn a paycheck.
An active member of the Hanna High School ROTC in October 1971, Cavazos was waiting for drill team practice to start, just as he had dozens of times before.
A senior, he was no stranger to horsing around, so when a sophomore nearly twice his weight wanted to wrestle, he joined in the tussle.
Cavazos can discuss the accident with ease today, speaking from his bed after three decades of detachment from the moment that changed the course of his life.
It wasn't an accident brought on by driving too fast, he said. It was just a freak accident during some commonplace roughhousing.
Cavazos told The Brownsville Herald (http://bit.ly/ZQLdIZ) when his mother arrived to tend to her son, who was badly injured when the larger classmate fell on him, she thought he had just broken his arm.
As he was rushed to the hospital, Cavazos said he was breathing on his own, but by the time he was admitted he required assistance just to draw breaths.
When he woke up, he was in the intensive care unit, where his mother explained to him his paralysis.
Born completely blind, he saw for the first time when he was 11 after six surgeries, but the accident that left him a quadriplegic was a life-changer.
His mother explained there was a surgery option that, if successful, would mean that with therapy he could regain the ability to use his hands. There was also an equal chance that he would die.
"My mother didn't want to risk it," Cavazos said.
Even without that surgery, doctors gave him only 72 hours to live, he said, but he defied those long odds, though his round-the-clock requirements for care meant he had to go to a nursing home in Killeen, Texas, near Fort Hood.
Cavazos had known disability before.
It wasn't until Christmas Eve 1983 that he returned to Brownsville, staying at a local nursing home and taking classes at University of Texas at Brownsville with the intent of being an attorney, though he eventually changed his major in an effort to get a degree in counseling.
Using an electric wheelchair he could pilot with his chin, Cavazos was well on his way to reaching his goals until his mother died in 1991.
At 28, Cavazos had lost one of his biggest supporters — the woman he now credits with instilling within him the drive to be treated just like anyone else.
"She always treated me equal," he said, noting that even when he was young and blind she taught him not to feel sorry for himself. "That helped me a lot. In a way, she was preparing me for the future."
Her death, though, shook his focus on education. He stopped taking courses for a while.
"Everything changed," he said, noting that even his relationship with his three brothers shifted after his mother's death.
They all remain close through phone calls, but Cavazos said it hasn't been the same since their mother, Carlotta, passed.
"They've got their lives, and I've got mine," he said, saying he didn't expect or want them to put their lives on hold for him — another testament to the strength his mother inspired. "It makes me feel weak when people feel sorry for me."
After his mother's death, Cavazos shifted his focus to getting out of the nursing home, something he accomplished at age 38.
After nearly 20 years of nursing homes, Cavazos was finally on his own, thanks to a home nurse and special technologies that give him the independence he hadn't had in decades.