Mizzou Film Student Directs Life from Wheelchair
COLUMBIA - Gabriella Garbero was one of the many students this summer who had a chance to go on a study abroad trip as a student at Mizzou. Garbero is also one of 6000 children born each year with Spina Muscular Atrophy (SMA), a motor neuron disease that weakens muscles throughout the body. SMA impairs her voluntary muscles' ability for day-to-day activities, such as walking, head and neck control, swallowing, and even breathing. Nonetheless, she went on a study abroad trip to Greece this summer, and she is enrolled in the film studies program at the University of Missouri.
Garbero, 21, studied abroad in Greece with the Mizzou's English department. Her peers who went on the trip did English-related subjects, while she did film. While those students roamed around the island of Serifos freely, with the help of her parents, Garbero was did her sightseeing from her wheelchair.
"My dad came up for the first two weeks and my mother for the second two," Garbero said.
Garbero was diagnosed with SMA when she was 13 months old. One of Garbero's biggest fears was to move out from her parents' house and to be on her own.
That was three years ago.
Garbero lives in her own apartment, with help from her two aides and two nurses. She has dreams of becoming a horror film director.
"I like horror movies because they show you what people are like deep down on the insides, without all of their masks," said Garbero as she fidgets with the joystick on her power wheelchair.
"All of their expectations of society are thrown away."
After graduation, Garbero plans to move to New York or California. It's still up in the air whether or not Garbero wants to work right out of college or go to a graduate school to study more about film. Either way, she said she is on the move.
Last summer, Garbero interned at KSDK Channel 5 in St. Louis where she wrote and directed a promo for the station's adoption segment. And during her study abroad trip this summer, Garbero came up with a promotional video where she directed the filming process and edited the videos.
Night nurse Julie Jones has been working with Garbero since she was a freshman. Garbero is currently a senior.
"I liked her right off the bait," said Jones, sharing a knowing look with Garbero. "I help her to shower, and get her BiPAP."
A BiPAP machine is a breathing apparatus that helps its user get more air into his or her lungs. Garbero, who has sleep apnea, said her muscles are too weak to work effectively when she is sleeping.
Garbero said she was once afraid of the time she would have to live without her parents.
"I was petrified to live by myself," said Garbero. "You don't know if you're sleeping and your nerves decide. ‘Oh I quit.'"
"I am not 100 percent over the fear of me calling out (and) no one being there. But you learn to get past it. I think I was emotionally ready to live away from home. The physical aspect--that got kind of scary."
Although Garbero gets scared sometimes, she said she is happy with how far she has come.
Garbero is currently working on her visual resume even though she will not graduate until May. Like most future graduates, she is worried about not being able to get a job after graduation, and that concern has nothing to do with her disability.
"I think it is hard for me to get a job because I'm an awkward human being," Garbero laughs. "I'm not graceful. I'm gonna laugh at really awkward times at my first job, and ask questions like ‘Do you want to hear a scary story?'"
Garbero's life motto is to be an encouragement to others. That is why she is always smiling, and laughing.
"I want to be successful and happy. This sounds crazy but one of my goals is to help someone else discover themselves," Garbero said with twinkle in her eyes.
"I might never know exactly about who I am. But I like discovering that. And I want to help others to discover themselves through my movies or my TV shows."
Garbero also wants to produce a documentary about how people in wheelchairs date, particularly women. She chuckled a little when she said she recently started an on-line dating profile on a disabled dating website.
"It started out okay, and then it took a hard left turn," Garbero said as she shared her experience. "There are some guys out there who have ‘wheelchair fetish.'"
Garbero said she was not a big fan of guys with ‘wheelchair fetish.' After her brief online dating adventure, Garbero said she realized that she wants to date someone who is as big of a movie buff as she is. She is a huge fan of the TV series, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer."
As far as marriage goes, she wants to be with someone who shares her faith. Garbero said her Mormon beliefs have shaped her to be who she is today.
"Just knowing that God doesn't make mistakes, (that) he'll always love me--and I'm not just some genetic error that happened," said Garbero. "I'm actually meant to be the way I am. Bad vision. Bad jokes."