When Curtiss Wilson was in junior high school, he was like most other boys his age. He liked to hop on his skateboard and ride as fast as he could down the sidewalk in front of his house in Roswell, N.M.
Only he didn’t stand on his skateboard. He sat on it. And his mother and father refused to watch. She would close the front door. He headed to the backyard. They couldn’t bear to watch their boy break yet another bone.
Their second son had been born with osteogenesis imperfecta, otherwise known as “brittle bone disease.” By the time he reached young adulthood, he had suffered some 98 fractures.
Today, the 43-year-old surmises the total is now about 300 — mostly his arms and legs. But don’t talk to him about limitations. Limitations are problems waiting for solutions. The soft-spoken man with a quick wit recalls loving parents who listened to a wise doctor offer this counsel: “Let him learn to do what he can do and he will learn his own limitations.”
“I’m so grateful,” Brother Wilson said of his parents’ support. “They were both willing to let me try things and encouraged me to try things.”
He has done more than “try” things. A member of the Academy Heights Ward, Albuquerque New Mexico Stake, he has a bachelor’s degree in business administration from New Mexico State University, is chief information officer of a small insurance company, drives his own specially equipped van, serves on the board of the New Mexico State Alumni Association and leads OI (osteogenesis imperfecta) support groups in New Mexico and southern Colorado.
And, most recently, he was appointed by Gov. Susana Martinez to serve on the State of New Mexico’s Commission on Disability. His four-year term began in July and will end in December 2016. Members of this commission act as disability advisers to the governor and legislature on matters of social integration, economic self-sufficiency, and physical and program accessibility. (Another example of overcoming a disability and finding employment can be found in the Deseret News national edition, “Technological wonders allow disabled girl to find her own voice,” Sept. 30, 2012.)
“It was exciting and kind of overwhelming,” he said during a Church News interview. “It’s a great honor to be chosen by your community and your state for disability awareness. New Mexico, as far as I’m concerned, has a lot of laws to help the disabled. When I was a kid, I could get around fairly easy. When I got around to other states, they didn’t have a simple ramp to the restaurant.”
Disability awareness — and public response — has changed dramatically since his birth in 1969, Brother Wilson said. “In my grandparents’ age, if someone had a disability, you didn’t talk about it. They were in the attic and didn’t come out.”
That attitude would never have been acceptable to Brother Wilson’s mother. When he was born to Orvil and Jo Nell Wilson, who still reside in Roswell, it was readily apparent something wasn’t right. The newborn had multiple fractures. Within a week, doctors diagnosed osteogenesis imperfecta, a genetic disorder affecting some 25,000 to 50,000 Americans. Other symptoms may include scoliosis, hearing loss, short stature and, in some cases, restrictive pulmonary disease. Along with brittle bones, Brother Wilson is four feet tall and has scoliosis.
But growing up in Roswell, a young Curtiss played alongside his older brother, Joe, with neighborhood kids. He surmised his mother’s prayers and determined approach paved the way. From the time he entered kindergarten and all through elementary school, “my mother would come in and talk with all the kids about my disability and how I break.”
By the time he reached junior high, she didn’t need to do that anymore. The kids he grew up with introduced him to any newcomers and even protected him.
“When I graduated from high school I had fellow classmates come up to me or my mother and thank us for mainstreaming. I have no doubt that any of my friends are comfortable with people with disabilities.”
He recalled even playing football as a child. “We would get the neighborhood boys together. We set up rules. All the kids played touch football and would be on their knees or their rear ends. It terrified my mother.”
By 6th grade, he had run for and won election as student body president, and in junior high, he was manager of the school basketball team. His father, a lineman with the telephone company, rigged a plunger so his son could pick up the balls.
He was no less active in Church. His mother had joined the Church as a teenager and reared her sons in the gospel. Both are active today. Over the years, he has served as a youth Sunday School teacher, been active in singles activities and currently serves as clerk of the Albuquerque University Branch. He regularly attends the temple and participates in baptisms for the dead.
Today, he gets around in his motorized wheelchair — having given up walking in his youth. He got tired of breaking his legs and having rods inserted. He said he has developed what he calls the “fracture mentality.”
“It hurts the same as a normal person’s fracture would,” he said, but he’s learned to “accommodate” his fractures and surgeries — some 13 in his lifetime. In 1989, he spent three days in a coma after falling on his head, suffering a brain injury.
“I find it amusing that people say, ‘Oh, you poor dear.’ They didn’t watch me get out of my van that I drove. I’ve got a college degree. I’ve got 25 years experience with computers.
“A lot of people are discouraged,” he continued, emphasizing that all human beings have challenges. “They can’t get a job or get a degree. I sign up for our singles potluck and take a roast chicken [that I prepared] and they say, ‘That’s delicious!’ ”
Getting a job, driving his van or preparing a chicken — all are accomplishments derived from solutions to limitations.
Brother Wilson attributes his attitude to “the Holy Ghost and gospel in my life.” And to a mother and father who let their son find his own way — even learning to ride a skateboard.