On 11 October 2012, David Rose, a young man of just 24 with severe cerebral palsy passed away quietly in a Californian hospital. He did not have a multi platinum selling recording career, nor an academy award to his name. Yet the loss of his life was met with the sort of outpouring of public sentiment that is usually reserved for those of celebrity status. News of his death was reported by countless national papers, comments went viral on twitter touching thousands if not millions, the majority of whom had never known him. So who was this man? And why did he become such a sensation?
David Rose was born with severe athetoid cerebral palsy. He lived in a special home for the disabled in California and required constant care. Such was the nature of his cerebral palsy, that he was not only confined to a wheelchair but he was also completely unable to move. Speech was also impossible as was hearing. His brain had been so damaged during the trauma sustained at birth that it was unable to process even the slightest sound.
Indeed, it was the seriousness of his disability that ultimately led to David’s untimely death. People with such critical forms of cerebral palsy are often susceptible to illnesses that an able bodied person would easily shrug off. So it was that a common cold proved fatal when it developed into a heavy dose of pneumonia.
One would be forgiven for drawing the conclusion that David’s life was a bleak one. Nothing could be further from the truth. His joy and thirst for life was “unquenchable”, as David’s devoted sister, Nichole, once wrote. His personality was so vibrant and so colourful, one could not help but be moved by his infectious humour and charm.
A constant joker, David would entertain family and friends with his bubbly character which was as funny as it was intelligent. But this still does not explain how one disabled young man with a voracious appetite for life became such a well known figure.
It all started when it was suggested that David take up blogging to give himself a ‘voice’ beyond the confines of his home enabling him to communicate with the outside world. Being a quadriplegic, David used ‘tobii eye-gaze’, to translate the subtle movements of his eyes into computer commands.
Due to his deafness and inability to speak, David understood the world through American sign language (ASL). However, since ASL is a conceptual method of communication, this meant that writing in complete sentences was a challenge. Nevertheless, the result was actually quite fascinating. The absence of pronouns and David’s tendency to write in the present tense gave his comical musings a unique, punchy style of delivery.
And so, thanks to the internet David discovered a new sense of freedom, conversing to the world through a combination of twitter, facebook and his quirky blog posts. And, what, you ask, did he write about? Well, the key issues affecting the majority of young men in the world today – boobs, of course!!
What comes across in reading David’s blogs, and tweets was that he was just a regular young lad. It’s a strange thing to describe, but the more you read his on-line journal, the more you seem to almost forget he was disabled.
Perhaps this is because the power of David’s personality did not come from his fight against cerebral palsy. Instead the source of his character, and the reason why he drew so much support was simply from being a true, honest and decent person, who genuinely saw the best in everything. The entries on his website were not those of someone continually putting a brave face on a difficult situation, they were the humorous observations of a twenty something with an irrepressible passion for everything in life from “yummy food” to girls!
Having read his criticisms about the cuisine on offer in the disability home where he lived, it seems a good dinner was often hard to find. As for the women in his life, I don’t think David had any problems attracting their attention! And it’s not hard to see why. His confidence and mischievous nature must have been hard to resist! Those blessed with this kind of charisma have the ability to draw others towards them, not out of sympathy or pity, but because they are the kind of souls who bring out the best in us.
It is not surprising therefore that David grew in popularity so quickly. By the time of his death, his twitter account boasted over fifteen thousand followers whilst his story had already been reported on news desks throughout America.
That’s not to say all his posts were light hearted and flippant. In one of his blogs, David revealed his fear of being alone, whilst in a more touching twitter post, he wondered whether he should fake going to sleep so that his mother and sister could “go have a life”. Nevertheless these sombre moments were few and far between and David could never finish an entry without a cheeky joke or two!
The point I’m trying to make here is that able bodied people often can’t help but define disabled people by their condition. Quite often when we read of people whose lives are marked by disability, it is their stories of determination and endurance which astound us the most. This is understandable. One may take the example of the incredible Bonner Paddock, the subject of my last blog, who became the first person with cerebral palsy to complete the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii this weekend.
Such bewildering achievements deserve our attention and respect. However, David Rose taught us something just as valuable. Though stricken with the severest form of cerebral palsy, he remained somehow ‘above’ his disability. His character and personality were totally out of its reach.
I can’t say I was ever lucky enough to know David. I only found out about him and his amazing sister, Nichole, two weeks before he died. It would have been good to chat with him. I guess that will have to wait. Until then, David, I would like to say this:
Thank you for your humour, your boundless enthusiasm, not to mention your endless boob jokes! But thank you most of all for reminding us just how fun life really is and just how lucky we are to be able to enjoy it.
For those who wish to learn more about David, his blog is still available at:
And you can still follow him on twitter @daveonwheels