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Uplift: Raising awareness, one step at a time

A few weeks after Heidi Wilson was born her parents were told she would never walk or talk.

But on this past Sunday, the now 32-year-old Wilson wore a yellow shirt — and she was not only walking, but talking.

Wilson was wearing yellow to celebrate Microcephaly Awareness Day on Sept. 30, and she was hoping to talk to as many people as she could to raise awareness about the disorder which many people don’t know about.

“When I talk to people they don’t realize I’m microcephalic,” she said recently.

“When I was a child they did measure the circumference of my head. I’m now five-foot, three-inches and I’m short because of the microcephaly. My head has gotten larger, but it is still a bit smaller than others.

“But I’m someone with it who can talk about it and I really want to tell people about it.”

According to the World Health Organization, microcephaly is a condition where a baby is born with a small head or when the head stops growing after birth. It is rare, with one baby in several thousand born with it.

But it has received a bit more attention in recent years because of the outbreak of the Zika virus in South America and the Caribbean. The virus has spread to pregnant mothers through infected mosquitos and results in the baby being born with severe microcephaly and other cognitive disabilities.

Usually what causes microcephaly is unknown, but some other causes can be severe malnutrition during fetal life, pre- and perinatal injuries to the brain while developing, and genetic conditions including Down syndrome.

Wilson said it was because of the increased awareness due to the Zika virus that made her want to talk about it. She doesn’t know how she became microcephalic.

“I tell people I have something similar to what happens to babies with the Zika virus, but it’s not something to be afraid of,” she said.

“I’ve had people, because of the Zika virus, back away from me when I tell them I have microcephaly, but I tell them they can’t get it from me. I would tell them to research it.

“I won’t spread it by a mosquito.”

For Wilson, besides walking and talking, being microcephalic hasn’t stopped her from getting a job and getting married. She began working in the kitchen at the University of Manitoba and now is a caretaker cleaning the buildings.

“We have a lot of machines to help us, but there are a lot of floors,” she says laughing.

But there are a few challenges. Wilson, like many other students living with special needs, stayed in high school until she was 21.

“Probably the biggest thing is I do not drive,” she said. “And I have a reading level of Grade 3 or Grade 4.

“It has been challenging at work and keeping up with a normal life in a normal world. I know how to go to work, make money, and pay my bills, but something like a house mortgage I would let my husband do that.

“And I will never have children because there’s a possibility of me passing on microcephaly to a child. I never would want to do that.”

Oh, about those doctors who gave Wilson’s parents the grim diagnosis a few decades back?

“When they said your daughter probably won’t walk or talk, they asked, ‘How do you know that?’. The doctors said they were preparing them.

“But, while I was delayed by five years both walking and talking, I do both today.”

So if you happen to see a woman with a yellow shirt working at the U of M, talk to her about microcephaly — she’ll be happy to talk to you.


— Kevin Rollason


Shelley Cook, Columnist

Sals comes home to East Exchange

Salisbury House’s new location at Lombard Avenue and Rorie Street is a 3,500-square-foot space, previously occupied by the Great-West Life Assurance Co.

The taste of Nips will soon return downtown, just steps away from where the local chain began 87 years ago.

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Hip-hop artist Mike Skwark, also known as Smrtdeath, will receive industry mentorship and performance opportunities valued at $10,000.

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