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Rene Powell and Traci Wilson-Kleekamp on Life with Disabilities

Traci Wilson-Kleekamp, left, smiles into the camera. She is wearing a black and white shirt and black rimmed glasses. Rene Powell, right, smiles into the camera. She is wearing thinly-rimmed glasses and a tan coat.
Rebecca Smith

Columbia resident Rene Powell spoke with her friend Traci Wilson-Kleekamp about what life has been like with a disability. They also spoke about how life has changed for Rene as her disabilities have become more visible - as she started using a walker recently to assist with her mobility.

Missouri Health Talks gathers Missourians’ stories of access to healthcare in their own words. You can view more conversations at missourihealthtalks.org.

Rene Powell: I was sort of born stubborn. I have been told that a time or two that I was a little bit of an oppositional toddler and child. 

Traci Wilson-Kleekamp:  No way. 

Rene: But my Mom has told me since then that she really appreciated that aspect of my personality when she saw how much it helped me pursue the healthcare I needed because that was a challenge.

Traci: I don't know how invasive it is to ask about insurance and how that works and getting the right doctors - How did that work? 

Rene: Well, I was really very lucky that there was an epileptologist [doctor who treats epilepsy] that he accepted Medicare and Medicaid because that was my only insurance option.

I knew the phrase “pre-existing condition” from a very early age because I knew I could not buy insurance, except for a very expensive policy.

So at first it was because my medicine was $50 a month, and I could do okay, and then later on when I started having a lot of emergency room trips and switching to newer medicines, it got to be a whole lot more expensive.

Traci: So what kind of barriers did you face because of all of this happening to you?

Rene: Well, one interesting thing is I don't consider my health itself to be a problem. It's my body doesn't cooperate with me.

Traci: Okay.

Rene: Necessarily. It doesn't do what I - Or it does things I don't tell it to you, as far as tensing my muscles up. 

Traci: Okay. Involuntary movements.

Rene: And so physical access has become an issue.

Traci: Okay.

Rene: And also visibility. The epilepsy was not noticeable unless I had a seizure. So they're two very different experiences.

Traci: Tell me how those two - the visibility part - how it affects you? And the physical part? 

Rene: Well, it is very different in that there are things that I'm discovering that I've been told about. I sort of figured out now that's what that pity stare looks like.

Rebecca Smith is a reporter and producer for the KBIA Health & Wealth desk. She was born and raised in Rolla, Missouri, and graduated with degrees in Journalism and Chemistry from Truman State University in May 2014. Rebecca comes to KBIA from St. Louis Public Radio, where she worked as the news intern and covered religion, neighborhood growth and the continued unrest in Ferguson, MO.
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