Dr. Paul Stuart Wichansky

   Sharing the voice and vision of courage and optimism.
Motivational and Keynote Speaker for Schools, Colleges, Companies, and Organizations.

Paul at 6 monthsScrapbook and Photo Album

PLANTING THE SEEDS OF DETERMINATION

Paul Stuart Wichansky was born in a suburban town in central New Jersey, about 30 minutes from the Jersey Shore. He was also born in the middle of a snowstorm, which was a harbinger of his future academic interest in meteorology. He was a cute baby! His mom was, at the time, a school social worker. His dad was an advertising executive. Early on, Paul developed his own personality from both parents, frequently smiling, but began to take on the social personality traits of his mom with the hallmarks of confidence and motivation from his dad. He combined the best qualities from both adoring parents, and pretty soon, his sister Suzanne was born.

Paul's disability was not properly diagnosed until he was about 3 years old. During this time, as he was not walking at all, many doctors told his worried parents that Paul would never be able to walk. The doctors diagnosed one of three possible conditions: mental retardation, developmental delay, or cerebral palsy. His parents, however, made a crucial decision to be more positive, as choosing to stay negative would benefit no one at all, especially their son. Instead, his mom listened to an intuitive voice within her heart that told her not to believe anything that these doctors were telling her. His parents encouraged a young Paul to learn to do tasks on his own, so he was able to develop a strong sense of independence from an early age.

It is important for parents of a child with special needs to have both optimism and patience. The child will develop at his or her own pace. It is crucial that the family does not compare the achievements of such a child with those of their siblings or even their peers. It's not the team with the best players that wins, but the players with the best team!

Never giving up on their search, his parents continued their quest to find the best doctors whom they believed could help Paul lead a happy, normal life. They apparently succeeded!

A Story of Heart, Humanity, and Hope

While a student at Rutgers, Paul attended a guest lecture at Robert Wood Johnson UMDNJ Medical School hosted by a well-known orthopedist. Twenty-five years earlier, this same orthopedist gave Paul's mom a heartbreaking medical diagnosis that he would just never be able to walk. She left disappointed and disgusted.

So Paul is now in the audience of this same doctor. Paul's heart wanted him to raise his hand so the doctor would call on him, and then Paul would proudly stand up from his seat. "You were the same orthopedist who told my mom years ago that, considering my cerebral palsy, I would never be able to learn to walk. Well, here I am standing in front of you. Because my parents found another orthopedist who provided what you couldn't -- a sense of hope and compassion to each patient, while also learning to understand them from a more human perspective. Would I be standing in front of you today if my parents accepted your medical opinion at the time?"

Instead, Paul just sat silent in the audience, as he did not want to embarrass the guest speaker with such a public spectacle having bright and eager medical students all around him. Paul believes that he did the right thing staying silent, but his heart has always told him the other scenario was more "right" to make his voice of hope and optimism heard.

Paul has forgotten his name and does not know if this orthopedist is still practicing.

Paul and his sister SuzannePaul also has a bilateral hearing impairment, usually associated with 10% of those who have cerebral palsy. He got his first hearing aides at age 6 from a special audiologist, Dr. Robert DiSogra, who has his practice in Freehold, New Jersey.

He also began to attend public school, much to the dismay of his teachers and school administrators. They recommended that Paul be placed in an alternate school for children with disabilities, as they were concerned that he was now learning to walk and could hurt himself after observing Paul frequently falling down in the hallways and classrooms. They just did not want Paul to become a liability issue for the district.

However, his parents insisted that their son be mainstreamed along with his classmates, with special accommodations provided by the school including physical and occupational therapy. In the classroom, Paul would sit at a special desk in the front-row center but his hearing loss became a problem. He could hear the teacher by reading lips, but became frustrated when the teacher, still speaking, turned away from the class to write on the blackboard. It was like the volume had been turned down! When the teacher faced the class again, it was like the volume was increased!

In an era where inclusion was yet to become a iconic word in education, his parents worked closely with teachers and counselors to help Paul succeed in class, especially given his progressive hearing loss. That's why Robert DiSogra continues to be a special person in Paul's life, inspiring him with his optimism and perseverance to achieve even more.

Dr. Roy Nuzzo, OrthopedistPaul's parents eventually found a very special orthopedist. Dr. Roy Nuzzo was more positive than many other orthopedists in his era, choosing to give his patients and their families something called, "hope." He was one of the few orthopedists who believed that Paul could eventually learn to walk! To accomplish this goal, Dr. Nuzzo designed a series of leg braces that would eventually correct a "back-kneeing" problem that developed when Paul first learned to walk. He also challenged Paul to not merely be a spectator and view life from the outside, but to rather become a relevant participant and experience life's moments front and center.

Through the years that followed, Paul took advantage of intensive physical, occupational, and speech therapy where he was encouraged by his family and motivated by his physical therapists, Linda Lennox and Patricia Dumphy, who helped Paul learn to believe in himself.

In time, there was a noticeable improvement in his walking, that by the time Paul was in high school, Dr. Nuzzo as well as his therapists realized that the braces were actually preventing him from walking correctly. Dr. Nuzzo took them off for a trial period, and Paul has not needed them since.

Paul's visit to a Montreal cathedral convinced him that the question he often asked himself, "Why me?", was, in fact, an unusually selfish attitude. He then realized that he had the dedication and the unrelenting spirit to eventually overcome the disillusioning face of adversity, allowing him to confidently rise above the physical, mental, emotional, and environmental obstacles in his quest for a rewarding life. He could not have these philosophies if it were not for the support and optimism that he constantly received from friends, family, teachers, and therapists who each encouraged him to, "set the bar higher."

Making My Students Feel Like Champions

"Your friendly and open nature is simply magnetic, and it's easy to see how students, and people in general, are drawn to you. There are few people in this world who possess the God-given talent to single-handedly transform others' attitudes and perspectives in a positive way, and you, dear Paul, have undoubtedly been chosen to be one of them." -- Paula Little, Barnegat, N.J.

A LIFE THAT IMITATES ART

Porsche 911 TurboDuring his high-school years, Paul favorite activity was one that got his creative juices flowing: fine arts. His senior year saw the completion of a huge eye-catching painting of a guards-red 1989 Porsche 930 Turbo. The following image of this oil painting reveals an elaborate amount of detail, even on the wiper arm and blade of the rear window wiper. Notice the rubberlike texture of the huge whale tail located at the rear, with the thin reflections from its louvers on top. Finally, if you look closely, you can see the shadow of the third stop lamp inside the top of the rear window glass!

Paul's first year at college, and the first extended time away from home, became his biggest challenge for independence. Moving from a single building (high school) to a large campus of many buildings was initially overwhelming. However, the achievement he was particularly proud was learning to drive a car with regular foot controls, an activity that seemed to merely be a dream to him and his parents. He maintains a positive attitude while driving, and can often be seen with a wide ear-to-ear smile behind the wheel of his unique car.

Making My Students Feel Like Champions

"Paul, your keynote address provided a shining example to our athletes -- and to all of us -- of what individuals can accomplish when they focus on developing their gifts and talents.

"Your inspiring story went a long way in reinforcing this valuable message! In just a few minutes, you were able to take the stage and form an immediate and unique bond with the 1,000 athletes gathered in the Pavilion. I hope you enjoyed the experience as much as all of your spectators did." -- Janine Cesare, President, Special Olympics PA

HIS PHILOSOPHY

Paul knows that somewhere behind the motivational speaker he has become, the constant practices and learning from his mistakes, the coaches and teachers who have always encouraged him, the dedication to make a positive difference, and the lifelong friendships he has made along the way, there is a little boy who used to be in a wheelchair who dreamed of learning to walk. Always inspire for him!

Have you ever occasionally asked yourself the question, "Why Me?"

This reflects an unusually selfish attitude. Paul came to realize this following his visit, at age 15, to a Montreal cathedral where he immediately noticed thousands of braces, crutches, and wheelchairs that lined the entire ceiling, walls, and interior pillars. He looked down at the detested leg braces he was wearing and understood, at that moment, that his cerebral palsy was not a disability at all!

His cerebral palsy was a gift.

With a renewed sense of purpose, he shifted his perspective and instead began asking himself, "Why not me?" Our challenges are not supposed to paralyze us, but they help us discover that all life can be ours -- to conquer, to love, to live. Finding joy and happiness in life, while expressing true forgiveness, can release any feelings of anger, negativity, and disillusionment, ultimately allowing your attitude to determine your altitude.

Paul customizes the presentation or keynote to each specific audience. The topics can include, but are not limited to, disability awareness and acceptance, character education, anti-bullying strategies, diversity, and leadership via resiliency. From a small first-grade classroom to a large corporate boardroom, Paul hosts presentations to all ages. For example, he encourages his audiences to reflect upon the relationships within their own lives, learn to discount those who harbor negativity, and help to instill hallmarks of leadership that encourage optimism, achievement, and success.

Making My Students Feel Like Champions

"It was such an honor to see you speak this evening at Loyola University Chicago! Your outlook on life is truly amazing. Positivity isn't always an easy thing to embrace, but as you explain, I do believe that there is always a lesson of good to be found in the bad that we experience. The struggles and hardships we each take on in life help develop our individual character, and shape who we are as people. If everyone shared your incredible attitude to appreciate people for just the way they are, the world would be a much better place. Please continue to share your story with others, because you're making such a difference to those you touch. And I also applaud your appreciation for Billy Joel - he's one of music's all time greats!" -- Lauren Bogacz, university student

Billy Joel with Paul Stuart WichanskyPaul's experiences also show that when you believe in yourself, others will too. Another of his dreams came true: a one-on-one conversation with "Piano Man" Billy Joel. Paul's favorite song is Joel's classic 1977 hit, Just The Way You Are, which is precisely the name of this web site. This photo was taken in April 1996, prior to one of Billy's college lecture classes at the University of Delaware.

When this photo arrived in the mail a few weeks later, Dr. Paul wanted to place an extra smile on Billy's face! Since he had several 8x10" copies of the photo, and he wanted to place an extra smile on Billy's face, Paul autographed an 8x10" copy of this photo and mailed it to Billy for his own collection! Paul later learned that Billy chose to frame this photo and hang it in the den of his Manhattan apartment! What a very generous gesture!

In February 2002, Billy introduced Paul and his sister to singer Elton John, and then they performed the song, Just The Way You Are, that evening at a Philadelphia concert. Paul also gave his little brother Ian an exciting birthday gift of meeting both of them backstage prior to their Face-to-Face concert at the Meadowlands.

Dr. Paul with Christopher Reeve

Never expected to meet and be inspired by his idol, Christopher Reeve. Paul told him that, when he saw the first Superman movie in theaters in 1978 as a youth, Reeve's character convinced Paul that his dream (of walking) has wings of its own! Paul's compliment made him smile. The camera flash was not used because he did not want to hurt Reeve's eyes.


Paul with his cousin Rachel PlattenDr. Paul shares a quiet moment with his cousin Rachel Platten before her concert at The Stone Pony on the Asbury Park, New Jersey boardwalk. Her signature song, "Fight Song," has since become an anthem this past summer to many around the world, including childrens' hospitals. "Fight Song" has helped many discover their inner strength to triumph over their own challenges in life. The lyrics are so catchy: "This is my Fight Song ... take back my Life Song ..."


Paul enjoying the moment with his nephewPaul took his sister and nephew (Landon) out for a Mothers Day lunch this year. Another crazy kid, Landon would not even smile for a photo with his uncle, so Paul decides to act just as silly in the moment! Paul posted this picture with the caption, "Never take life seriously. No one gets out alive anyway!"


Paul volunteers his car as a wedding chauffeurPaul's little brother Alex got married to his beautiful wife Deirdre two years ago in a stunning ceremony. They were honored to have Paul chauffeur them on their wedding day in his own unique car! Note that his car is NOT a BMW but sure looks like one, and he enjoys creating big smiles wherever he goes. We guess that you can refer to Paul as "the cool kid with the ultracool car!"

Since that time, he has been asked to chauffeur the newleyweds in his unique car at four other weddings!


Shattering Stereotypes. Triumphing over Adversity. Soaring towards Success. JustTheWayYouAre.com HOME MEET DR. PAUL PROGRAMS K-12 SCHOOLS COLLEGES & UNIVERSITIES COMPANIES & ORGANIZATIONS REVIEWS SCHOOLS COLLEGES & UNIVERSITIES PROFESSIONAL SCRAPBOOK MEDIA ARCHIVE MAKING WAVES WITH DAVID HASSELHOFF ARTICLES BLOG VIDEO TESTIMONIALS FAQ CONTACT SITE MAP