True
Muscular Dystrophy Association

Growing up, Jimmy Valdes' parents raised him to focus on all the things he could do, not the things he couldn’t.

Jimmy was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) in 1971 when he was only 4 years old. SMA is a degenerative spinal disease that causes weakness of the voluntary muscles — often those in the shoulders, thighs, hips, and back. People who have it usually need assistance to complete physical tasks.


Check out Jimmy's story here, or read more below:

As Cuban immigrants, Jimmy's parents were driven and determined to give their family the most normal life possible. They took him on family vacations. He played catch with his dad. He went to school and went on dates and read comic books.

His parents made it clear to him that he would always need help but that nothing was impossible. And he believed them. Jimmy told Upworthy, "If not for the decisions they made back then, my life wouldn't have turned out the way it did. And it's still a work in progress, it's every day, every week, every month."

Jimmy can't do everything, though, and needs caretakers to assist him through his daily routine.

He needs help completing all physical activities, from hygiene to meal prep to transportation. This is a reality that he's dealt with for most of his life, and he hasn't let it limit him.

There are systems and programs in place to help people like Jimmy who live with disabilities. Unfortunately, those supports sometimes fall short. Jimmy’s reality is proof of that.

All images via Muscular Dystrophy Association/YouTube.

You see, in spite of Jimmy’s severe disability, he does not qualify for disability benefits.

He's the breadwinner in his family — he has worked for CBS for over 20 years — and because he earns an income that exceeds the amount allowed, Jimmy does not qualify for disability benefits through the Social Security Administration that would help him pay for the care and services necessary to live his everyday life.

Almost all of his care he pays for out-of-pocket.

And the costs are astronomical. He said he spends hundreds per week on caretakers. He even quipped that he's been audited by the IRS a number of times because they couldn't believe that a single man had such exorbitant expenses.

As he put it, "it costs more for me to live life."

The Social Security Administration makes it clear that it's possible to work and receive benefits, so long as your earnings aren't "substantial." What does that mean? For 2016, the SSA site says that per month, "we consider earnings over $1,130 ($1,820 if you're blind) to be substantial."

So, you can be making a barely livable wage, especially in a city as notoriously expensive as New York City and not qualify. If you make more than the figures mentioned above, your care isn't covered.

This is Jimmy's dilemma, and he’s not the only one.

The Muscular Dystrophy Association shared a post on Facebook asking for comments and insight regarding efforts to work while dealing with a muscle-debilitating disease. The responses are telling.

One person mentions that, like Jimmy, he doesn’t meet the stringent income requirements to receive benefits, but that "as long as I can work that is a far more fulfilling life then having to watch every cent to be sure I'm poor enough." Another person mentions that she is "afraid to get any kind of raise or promotion due to income caps."

These are men and women who want nothing more than to live life on their terms but who are, in effect, limited by a policy that is meant to serve them.

The very system that was built to support them has let them down.

As hard as it may be to pay for his care and continue supporting his family, Jimmy isn't letting it prevent him from living the life he dreamed of.

He continues to work because he genuinely likes what he does. He's built a career and has a network of people who support him. He met and married the love of his life and is devoted to her and her family, all of whom remain a source of endless inspiration for him. He goes to concerts and games and makes every effort to enjoy the life he's worked so hard to build.

In addition to working hard toward his own self-sufficiency, Jimmy is focused on helping others in a similar situation have the opportunity to live life on their terms.

He wants to use his voice to bring awareness to the issues that people who have disabilities face and to help find solutions. He wants everyone to have the opportunity to live life their way, much as he has. And he wants the systems that are built to support people like himself to not be the very thing that limits them.

He's not yet sure where to start, but he's determined.


People with disabilities can and do live meaningful and contributing lives, and we can work together to help ensure that the systems intended to lift up individuals with disabilities do not hold them back.

MDA is proud to be part of the collective effort to break down barriers to meaningful employment for those living with disabilities, including looking at ways to help individuals work while keeping benefits like personal care in place. Get involved today by joining MDA’s advocacy efforts, contributing to help individuals like Jimmy live unlimited, or sharing your story about how you balance employment and personal care needs by emailing advocacy@mdausa.org.

Leah Menzies/TikTok

Leah Menzies had no idea her deceased mother was her boyfriend's kindergarten teacher.

When you start dating the love of your life, you want to share it with the people closest to you. Sadly, 18-year-old Leah Menzies couldn't do that. Her mother died when she was 7, so she would never have the chance to meet the young woman's boyfriend, Thomas McLeodd. But by a twist of fate, it turns out Thomas had already met Leah's mom when he was just 3 years old. Leah's mom was Thomas' kindergarten teacher.

The couple, who have been dating for seven months, made this realization during a visit to McCleodd's house. When Menzies went to meet his family for the first time, his mom (in true mom fashion) insisted on showing her a picture of him making a goofy face. When they brought out the picture, McLeodd recognized the face of his teacher as that of his girlfriend's mother.

Menzies posted about the realization moment on TikTok. "Me thinking my mum (who died when I was 7) will never meet my future boyfriend," she wrote on the video. The video shows her and McLeodd together, then flashes to the kindergarten class picture.

“He opens this album and then suddenly, he’s like, ‘Oh my God. Oh my God — over and over again,” Menzies told TODAY. “I couldn’t figure out why he was being so dramatic.”

Obviously, Menzies is taking great comfort in knowing that even though her mother is no longer here, they can still maintain a connection. I know how important it was for me to have my mom accept my partner, and there would definitely be something missing if she wasn't here to share in my joy. It's also really incredible to know that Menzies' mother had a hand in making McLeodd the person he is today, even if it was only a small part.

@speccylee

Found out through this photo in his photo album. A moment straight out of a movie 🥲

♬ iris - 🫶

“It’s incredible that that she knew him," Menzies said. "What gets me is that she was standing with my future boyfriend and she had no idea.”

Since he was only 3, McLeodd has no actual memory of Menzies' mother. But his own mother remembers her as “kind and really gentle.”

The TikTok has understandably gone viral and the comments are so sweet and positive.

"No the chills I got omggg."

"This is the cutest thing I have watched."

"It’s as if she remembered some significance about him and sent him to you. Love fate 😍✨"

In the caption of the video, she said that discovering the connection between her boyfriend and her mom was "straight out of a movie." And if you're into romantic comedies, you're definitely nodding along right now.

Menzies and McLeodd made a follow-up TikTok to address everyone's positive response to their initial video and it's just as sweet. The young couple sits together and addresses some of the questions they noticed pop up. People were confused that they kept saying McLeodd was in kindergarten but only 3 years old when he was in Menzies' mother's class. The couple is Australian and Menzies explained that it's the equivalent of American preschool.

They also clarified that although they went to high school together and kind of knew of the other's existence, they didn't really get to know each other until they started dating seven months ago. So no, they truly had no idea that her mother was his teacher. Menzies revealed that she "didn't actually know that my mum taught at kindergarten."

"I just knew she was a teacher," she explained.

She made him act out his reaction to seeing the photo, saying he was "speechless," and when she looked at the photo she started crying. McLeodd recognized her mother because of the pictures Menzies keeps in her room. Cue the "awws," because this is so cute, I'm kvelling.

A simple solution for all ages, really.

School should feel like a safe space. But after the tragic news of yet another mass shooting, many children are scared to death. As a parent or a teacher, it can be an arduous task helping young minds to unpack such unthinkable monstrosities. Especially when, in all honesty, the adults are also terrified.

Katelyn Campbell, a clinical psychologist in South Carolina, worked with elementary school children in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting. She recently shared a simple idea that helped then, in hopes that it might help now.

The psychologist tweeted, “We had our kids draw pictures of scenery that made them feel calm—we then hung them up around the school—to make the ‘other kids who were scared’ have something calm to look at.”



“Kids, like adults, want to feel helpful when they feel helpless,” she continued, saying that drawing gave them something useful to do.

Keep Reading Show less

Alberto Cartuccia Cingolani wows audiences with his amazing musical talents.

Mozart was known for his musical talent at a young age, playing the harpsichord at age 4 and writing original compositions at age 5. So perhaps it's fitting that a video of 5-year-old piano prodigy Alberto Cartuccia Cingolani playing Mozart has gone viral as people marvel at his musical abilities.

Alberto's legs can't even reach the pedals, but that doesn't stop his little hands from flying expertly over the keys as incredible music pours out of the piano at the 10th International Musical Competition "Città di Penne" in Italy. Even if you've seen young musicians play impressively, it's hard not to have your jaw drop at this one. Sometimes a kid comes along who just clearly has a gift.

Of course, that gift has been helped along by two professional musician parents. But no amount of teaching can create an ability like this.

Keep Reading Show less