Spend a moment with Matildelis Medina and you’ll quickly discover that her dreams are much larger than her petite 4’8” frame might suggest. She loves to play the piano and, albeit shy about sharing her talents, really enjoys singing. (She actually belted out a short rap song and a snippet of Adele’s Someone like You for Kean Xchange, but we promised we wouldn’t make it public). A sophomore biology major at Kean, Medina dreams of one day becoming a pediatrician.
“I’m often judged the moment someone sees me,” said the Belleville, N.J., resident. “The truth is I’m a lot like every other 19-year-old girl, except I can’t walk.”
Medina was born with a condition called spinal muscular atrophy and is a full-time power chair user. Although she experiences some physical limitations from the disability, she believes that “no matter who you are or where you come from, if you have a desire to succeed, anything is possible.” Surely, Medina’s great sense of humor and love for life also add value to her approach; so much so that she has the words "I laugh to live" tattooed on her arm
It is precisely that vivacity and veracity that inspired author Anita D. Bland to base the main character of her recent children’s book, Matilda’s Apple, on Medina.
In the book, the main character, Matilda, moves to a new school and wants nothing more than to fit in with her peers. Despite her attempts at making friends, it took a language arts assignment about symbolism and uniqueness to teach her classmates an important life lesson – ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover.’ “That’s a moral every person should seek to live by,” Medina said.
It was Bland’s willingness to do just that which led her to use Medina as the inspiration for her work. “She was my grade school teacher growing up. She taught English and has always been my performing arts instructor, too,” said Medina, who appeared in various theatre productions in high school and sometimes teaches others to play piano. “I have always looked up to her and she has always believed in me.”
Still, she is flattered that Bland took the time to write a book based on her real-life character. “It’s a little bit surreal,” Medina said. “And I love that half of the proceeds from the book will benefit the Muscular Dystrophy Foundation."