'People know her by name'

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Linda Youngman knows there's some merit to rehab specialists getting burned out quickly, especially these days. It takes more and more effort--sometimes kicking and screaming--to get claims approved and paid for. But then she thinks about the children she works with, and she changes her mind.
"It's funny--people say you get burned out, but I just don't buy it," said Youngman, who, at 42 years old, has logged more than 20 years as a rehab specialist in upstate New York. "I love it. It's tough, but the satisfaction of helping kids makes it worthwhile. They're just innocent and happy. People (see a child in a wheelchair and they) say, 'Poor thing,' but these kids are happy. They really are."
Youngman should know--she's been in a wheelchair since she was 12. She was sitting on a hillside with friends, when one friend tried to leap over her and, instead, landed on her back, breaking her neck. Not to be stopped, she attended Monroe Community College, became a rehab specialist and married a county sheriff named Jimmy.
"I'm a quad, but people think I'm a para," Youngman said of how people view her and her disability.
It's as if her activity level and attitude make her wheelchair disappear, say those who know her. Youngman works long hours as a rehab specialist for Fonte Surgical Supply in Rochester, N.Y., volunteers for the local chapter of the Spina Bifida Association and cheerleads her 17-year-old son, Aaron, who plays three varsity sports.
Michael Fonte, who owns Fonte Surgical Supply with his wife, Liz, said Youngman's "always going--there's no in between." "She's one of the top sales people in upstate New York, as much for her hard work as her personality," he said. "People know her by name."
Youngman points out that she has a support team to lean on, including Rob Huntley, a service technician who travels with Youngman, carrying equipment that she can't carry; and Angel Ramos, a coordinator who takes care of billing, so Youngman can spend as much one-on-one time as possible with her clients.
But there's no mistaking the power, especially for parents, of seeing a woman in a wheelchair fit their child for rehab equipment.
"They do see hope in me," Youngman acknowledged. "They see that I'm like everyone else. They ask, 'Does this mean my 16-year-old daughter can have kids some day?' Yes, they can."