Tatyana McFadden: Pushing Expectations


by Amy Saffell    

One wouldnt expect that a girl born in Eastern Europe with a disability, denied proper medical treatment after birth, abandoned by her family, and sent to an orphanage so poor that they couldnt afford a wheelchair for her to get around in would become a 3-time Paralympian.  After all, society doesnt even tend to expect much from a child with a disability born in Middle America to loving parents.  Fortunately, Tatyana McFadden was born expecting from within nothing less than to thrive. 

Challenging Early Expectations

Tatyana’s story begins in St. Petersburg, Russia where she was born in 1989 with spina bifida.  That wouldnt be considered a life-threatening disability in the United States, but it was a much different situation in St. Petersburg.  In Russia, and in many parts of the world, people with disabilities even today arent respected as other citizens are, much less in 1989, often not living among the rest of society and not having access to proper medical care, resulting in a poor quality of life and a shortened lifespan.  In the case of those with spina bifida, sufficient medical care is vital because babies are typically born with an open spinal column that needs surgical closing right after birth.  Tatyana, however, had to wait three weeks before that surgery was performed, which would typically lead to further nerve damage and life-threatening infection.  By all accounts, Tatyana shouldnt have survived those early months, but even in infancy, her will to live was stronger than the unfortunate circumstances around her. 
Tatyana visited Russia in 2011 to share her success
with the orphanage in which she was raised