CASHMERE — Ryan Sutherland will head back to Spokane next week to resume his final semester at Whitworth University. With him will be his father, Steve. The Cashmere father and son duo have been roommates at the college since 2009.
Stricken with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, Ryan is a quadriplegic with very limited use of only his right hand. He uses an electric wheelchair to get around. A crane is used to get him in and out of bed. A ventilator is used to aid his breathing through the night.
Most victims of the disease usually don’t live this long. But Ryan, 22, wanted to do as much as he could do without the genetic disease. After all, the disease didn’t stop him from becoming an Eagle scout or being a Cashmere High School honor student who acted in plays, sang in the choir and played trumpet in the school band.
He also wants to do as much as he can in his shortened lifespan to help others grapple with the fears of mortality, something he’s learned a thing or two about. He’s already worked as a counselor for critical care patients at Cascade Medical Center in Leavenworth and aging residents at an assisted living center in Spokane.
His father offered to help him achieve his goal of getting a college degree. Steve reduced his hours as a pharmacist to live with Ryan the past few years in a Whitworth dorm room. His mother, Debbie, would have done the same were it not for the restrictions involved in co-ed dorm living.
“I wanted to stay in the dorm to get the whole college experience,” Ryan said. Ryan and Steve have become celebrities of sorts on campus for their inspirational commitment to learning and community, said Kathy Storm, one of Ryan’s teachers and a school vice president.
“We don’t know how much time we’ll have,” said Steve. “We made the decision early on that we wanted to spend it together. It’s been a gift.”
Ryan graduated with a degree in psychology last spring. He’s finishing up a final semester to complete a minor in theology and earn a certificate of ministry. After the semester ends in February, Ryan and his parents will drive across country. They’ll be there when Ryan’s brother, Jared, graduates in May from medical school in Vermont.
Rick Steigmeyer: 664-7151