There were several breakthroughs in the life of Oleg Nowak, a radiologist. In 2009, he had a snowboarding accident, as a result of which he still uses a wheelchair. In 2011, he was told by people from the medical world that he should not be a doctor. And in 2022, he became the plenipotentiary of the Supreme Medical Council for doctors with disabilities.
Aleksandra Zalewska-Stankiewicz, “Wprost”: “A doctor in a wheelchair. Abstraction or reality“ – this is the topic of your TEDx talk. Is a medic with a disability still an abstraction for many?
Bow. Oleg Nowak: Unfortunately, yes, although I see people looking at me with surprise less and less often. I am the first doctor who started and graduated from the Medical University of Warsaw as a wheelchair user. I was 18 years old when I injured my spinal cord in a snowboarding accident in Austria. I underwent my first spine surgery in a hospital in Salzburg. After a week, I was taken to the Children’s Health Center, which became my second home for several months. This is where I celebrated my birthday, although it’s hard to call it a party. From that moment on, two feelings began to fight in my life – determination and resignation.
Looking at you, determination must have won.
In the first months after the accident, I hoped that I would not be confined to a wheelchair. I was promised that I would walk and play basketball like before. However, after the second spine surgery, there was no neurological improvement. However, my parents were full of determination. I stayed in a hospital in Warsaw for half a year – during which time they moved their lives from Częstochowa to the capital. They came to the hospital before I woke up to be with me and help me with self-care. After returning home, I underwent rehabilitation every day. In the meantime, my friends left for college and my level of resignation increased.
I had to make a decision – either remain stagnant or go away to college.
It’s probably not only a matter of decision, but also of strength. Where did you find them in yourself?
I have always wanted to be a doctor – a surgeon, just like my father and brother. When I became disabled, I thought that my professional plans were completely ruined. Especially since I didn’t know any medics with disabilities. But if another doctor says that you can be a doctor even though you are in a wheelchair, it is worth believing him. And I heard it from my parents’ family and friends. I applied for medical studies at the Medical University of Warsaw.