14:27 PM

Student Turns Weakness into Strength

David Gonzalez and his mother, brother and father pose for a photo while wearing their black Celts to Cure MD shirts.When senior David Gonzalez, a Philosophy major, was six years old, his parents and teachers noticed a sudden change: It was difficult for him to walk. His parents took their son to different doctors to figure out what was wrong, but every time, the problem was brushed off as a normal part of growing up.

“I was still walking and before that I seemed like a normal baby,” Gonzalez said in a previous article. “There wasn’t anything obviously wrong with me.”

Yet his parents had the gut instinct that the issue lay much deeper. Up until then, Gonzalez had been a perfectly normal child. Something about this change seemed wrong. So, the family kept searching for an answer, and finally they found a doctor who could give it to them: He had Duchenne muscular dystrophy.

What is Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy?

As a form of muscular dystrophy, Duchenne gradually breaks down the body’s muscles because its victims lack a vital protein called dystrophin. One out of every 3,500 males worldwide are affected by the disease. Although it is extremely rare for Duchenne to occur in females, they are the carriers for the disease and pass it down to all of their sons.

However, Gonzalez’s case was not a hereditary trait, but the result of a spontaneous genetic mutation that occurred within his body while his mother was pregnant. That is why for the first six years of his life, he seemed like a “normal” child.

Legs are the most used muscles, so Gonzalez’s broke down by the time he was nine, and he has been in a wheelchair ever since then. Now at the age of 23, he is paralyzed from the neck down. With the assistance of his mother and father, he uses an electric wheelchair to move around. However, none of these obstacles have ever held him back from living life.

Creating Celts to Cure

In high school, Gonzalez became involved with Coach To Cure MD, an advocacy group that raises about $20 million for muscular dystrophy research each year. The group collaborates with schools’ athletic teams, most often the football team, to host fundraisers.A young man holds up this year's CELTS TO CURE MD shirt. It is black with blue UST shield and says CELTS TO CURE MD in blue and green.

Not only did Gonzalez bring the fundraiser to his own high school, but he brought it to others as well. For example, he helped to raise $300,000 with Memorial High School’s tennis team. Moreover, because of his involvement with the Coach To Cure MD, he had the chance to work with the J.J. Watt Foundation and he even appeared in commercials that aired during Houston Texans games.

However, his work with the group didn’t end in high school. In 2016 he met Todd Smith, Director of Athletics and Recreational Sports. Together they collaborated to bring the program to the University. In Feb. 2017 the basketball teams held the first Celts to Cure, which raised $1,000. Now, Celts to Cure is an annual event, with the third held this year on Feb. 24.The women's basketball team poses for a photo while wearing the Celts to Cure shirts.

"My favorite part of the event was the fact that the event brought people together for the purposes of making a difference," Gonzalez said after the inaugural Celts to Cure. "Everyone met a new person that day and it was because we were all united in the fight to end Duchenne."

The Lone Star Sentinels

Together with his father, Pete, Gonzalez co-founded the Lone Star Sentinels, a power wheelchair soccer team, in Jan. 2018. Now they are working to achieve status as a nonprofit organization. Their goal is to open up a multipurpose center for people with disabilities of all kinds. One of the driving forces behind their founding of the Lone Star Sentinels is their desire to share their Catholic faith with those learning to cope with something like a terminal disease.

“We can correlate their experience to how Jesus felt when he was suffering and wrap it around Christianity,” Pete Gonzalez said. “If all else fails and there’s no cure for it, we can at least point them toward God.”

Another aspect of the long-term goal for the Lone Star Sentinels is to guide those with disabilities through life. Whether it’s by showing them how to enter the workforce or by providing them with resources to give back to society, Gonzalez wants to transform lives. He is the ideal candidate to do such a thing, because he himself has already accomplished things that most can only daydream about doing.

“I want to show people, especially those with disabilities, that they really matter,” he said. “They can really participate in society and, even though it may seem like their life is over, they can really make a difference.”

To make a $10 Coach To Cure MD donation, text “CURE” to 50555.

Story by Katie Fleming