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
Sals comes home to East Exchange
- The taste of Nips will soon return downtown, just steps away from where the local chain began 87 years ago. Salisbury House restaurants will open a location inside 177 Lombard Ave., the building which was the original headquarters for Great-West Life Assurance when it was constructed in 1909. It's just a few blocks away from the first Sal's location on Fort Street south of Portage Avenue.
A poultry paradise
- Still with local iconic restaurants... Mitzi's has become a Winnipeg institution on the strength of its chicken fingers. It was a restaurant serving Chinese food for about a decade after the current owner, Shirley Eng bought it with her husband Peter in 1978. But because her late husband loved chicken fingers, they added it to the menu, and 30 years later the restaurant now goes through hundreds of pounds of lean chicken breasts every week.
Meet George Jetson — in a few years
- It has been a few decades since George Jetson went to work in a flying car, but now Japan's government is working on the project. The day a person jumps in and flies somewhere is still in the future, but the government, All Nippon Airways, NEC Corp., and more than a dozen other companies and academic experts are looking at how to make it happen. "You may think of 'Back to the Future'," says Fumiaki Ebihara, the government official in charge of the project. "Up to now, it was just a dream, but with innovations in motors and batteries, it's time for it to become real."
Tiger roars again
- Everyone likes a comeback story and few are bigger than Tiger Woods. Woods, who was winless for five years, finally bagged his 80th PGA title recently by winning the Tour Championship. And Woods, who is now two tour wins away from tying the record set by Sam Snead with 82, knew when he was on the final green he was set to win. "I started tearing up a little bit," the 42 year old said. "I can't believe I pulled it off."
Booker this book, Danno
- A Canadian author has a chance of winning one of the most prestigious literary awards in the world. Victoria-based Esi Edugyan's book, Washington Black, has been named a finalist for the Man Booker Prize for fiction. The book, which has also been longlisted for this year's Scotiabank Giller Prize, follows an 11-year-old boy as he escapes slavery at a sugar plantation in Barbados with the help of the owner's brother.
Rapper gets awarded
- A rapper is the third Winnipegger in the four-year history of the Allan Slaight Juno Master Class to be picked to receive the award. Hip-hop artist Mike Skwark, known as Smrtdeath, will receive more than $10,000 worth of industry mentorship and performance opportunities. Other Winnipeggers chosen previously were Slow Leaves and the Lytics. Skwark's song, Everything, has already been heard more than a million times on Spotify.