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Man with cerebral palsy aims for M.Div.

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–“Little Randy can’t complete the test, so I’m afraid to tell you that he is brain damaged,” Randolph Schweinberg II said recalling the doctor’s evaluation of a childhood IQ test he had taken.

From then on Randy’s family was encouraged to treat him as mentally disabled. The doctor was right about one thing: Randy does have brain damage. He has cerebral palsy, or CP.

CP is the result of brain trauma often occurring during pregnancy or infancy. In Randy’s case, the disorder resulted from a lack of oxygen during his birth. Although CP has affected his motor skills, it has left his mental faculties intact.

At New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, where Schweinberg is now a student, family nurse practitioner Mari Wirfs at the campus clinic can testify to Randy’s readiness to learn.

“It’s a common misperception that CP always includes mental impairment, but even with the most severe cases, there is typically no cognitive disability,” Wirfs said. “With Randy, there is absolutely no cognitive deficiency.”

As a child, Randy underwent four operations on each leg in an attempt to give him the ability to walk. The surgeries, however, left him with fused ankles and limited mobility outside his wheelchair.

Growing up in a non-Christian family in Florida, Randy’s struggles drove him to rebel against authority and those who tried to deny him the same choices others take for granted. However, through the loving concern of a godly woman named Kendall Brown, God changed all that.

“My youth was a tough time for me,” Randy said. “If I hadn’t turned to God when I did, I probably wouldn’t be alive today.”

Living in a world where he is often labeled as mentally challenged, Randy has learned resilience, tackling Advanced Placement coursework in high school and, at Charleston Southern University, earning a bachelor of science degree in psychology in 2004.

Feeling the pull of God’s call, Randy moved to New Orleans and began work on a master of divinity degree with a specialization in the psychology and counseling.

Kathy Steele, head of the seminary’s psychology and counseling department, said Schweinberg “has everything he needs to be an outstanding counselor. The main struggle he faces is discrimination.” Steele added that Randy has a great sense of humor. “It helps others think of him as a regular guy,” she said, “and that’s important — being thought of as a regular guy.”

At the seminary he experienced some challenges such as the physical layout of the grounds that made accessibility difficult for the wheelchair-bound student.

James Byrd, who works with NOBTS’ facilities department, recalled the extra effort the seminary devoted to upgrading accessibility. “Randy has been a good sounding board for how we can improve our effort to make the campus accessible to all students,” Byrd said. “We are always looking for ways to best incorporate the ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] guidelines for accessibility.”

Another major challenge was accessibility to texts. The textbooks themselves were easily found; however, reading them proved a major challenge. One of the ways CP affects Randy is in the muscle control of his eyes, making reading a line of writing in a book very difficult. To compensate, Randy has developed extraordinary listening skills, and usually gets copies of the notes from either the professor or from fellow students.

“When Randy first arrived at the seminary he was limited in his ability to physically write exams,” Steele also said. “He’s overcome that, now.”

In 2005 Randy was settling in for his second year at NOBTS when Hurricane Katrina hit. Like everyone on campus, he lost everything, including his $8,100 electric wheelchair. As a result, he is motoring around campus in a 10-year-old chair that is in constant need of repair.

Despite all the challenges, or maybe because of them, Randy continues working toward his master’s degree. He currently is the senior counseling intern at the Bethel Colony South recovery center and halfway house for recovering addicts located near the seminary.

Mel Jones, Bethel Colony South’s founder and director, holds Randy’s work in high regard. “The fact that Randy has CP makes his counseling of our residents more effective. When men meet Randy, they no longer have excuses why they can’t recover. He inspires people.”
Christopher Black is a doctor of philosophy student at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

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  • Christopher Black