Disabled rights advocate fighting cancer

November 28, 2008 12:00:00 AM PST
A woman fighting for the rights of disabled people in Berkeley has had to put her efforts on hold to deal with a new battle; she's now fighting breast cancer.

She happens to be disabled herself because of a shooting on a college campus several years ago. But, she hasn't let any of this stop her from living life to the fullest.

You may have seen Miya Rodolfo-Sioson around the Bay Area over the last decade helping all sorts of people.

She had a part time job taking foreign-exchange students on tours and finding them host families. She found the job through a Craigslist ad, using a mouthstick to operate her computer.

"I wanted to have fun obviously, and meet people from other countries. And of course, going to all the different places we went, like Alcatraz Island and the Exploratorium and Golden Gate Bridge? It was a lot of fun," says Rodolfo-Sioson.

Her boss Daniel Julian told ABC7, "I met Miya about 6 years ago. She applied for a job with our organization. We were a little surprised when she showed up. But when we started speaking to her we found her very articulate, intelligent and very interested in what we were doing."

Julian created the student exchange program Swift USA. He said Miya constantly out-performed the other coordinators.

"That's when they all kind of whine and complain and I used to tell them as an example, if Miya can do it, please... They were less determined and didn't have half her qualities," he said.

Miya learned to be tough. She had three older brothers. She worked for Daniel for three years before he ever learned why she was in a wheelchair.

She's paralyzed from the neck down, wounded in a shooting rampage 17 years ago at the University of Iowa. A movie just came out this year focusing on the gunman, a graduate student named Gang Lu. He went on a killing spree, targeting 5 people.

"I heard a pop which was the gunshot, and I turned my head to see what was going on heard another pop and I was on the floor," she recalled.

Miya was a 23-year old temporary secretary. She was hit by a stray bullet.

"To me this event is like ancient history. There's so much that's happened since then," said Rodolfo-Sioson.

Miya moved on with her life and moved to Berkeley where she was appointed to the Commission on Disability in 1998. She served there for eight years.

"We'd help review a lot of the plans for non-profit developers who were developing housing, make sure their accessible units were as accessible as possible for wheelchair users and people with impairments," she said.

Miya's boss was so impressed by her that he stopped his student exchange program for a year to make a documentary about her.

"Our movie is not about pity. She doesn't want any of that anyway," said Julian.

Miya has been able to give help to others because she gets help from her caregiver, Kelly Kolberg. Miya's mother Sonya and brother Renato also help care for her.

That is more important than ever right now because Miya has her toughest fight yet in battling stage four breast cancer.

Miya is being treated at Highland Hospital in Oakland by Dr. Stephen Yee who says, "She's been through a lot as you found out...very brave."

Miya's anxious to get better, get back to being an activist and back to having fun. That's why her boss admires the way she tackles life and makes every moment count.

"I think she's an inspiration to all of us and a great person," said Julian.

ABC7 salutes Miya Rodolfo-Sioson for her enthusiastic activism and courage over the years. Governor Schwarzenegger sent her a proclamation honoring her for her work.

Miya's favorite charity is Whirlwind Wheelchair International. Learn more here in The Backstory Blog.

Update:
Just five days after this story aired, Miya lost her battle with breast cancer on Wednesday, December 3, 2008. Miya was 40-years-old.


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