By Amy Wolff
Photos Courtesy of Charlie Duffy and UCP of Central Arizona

“Your daughter has cerebral palsy,” may be one of the most frightening things a parent can hear. For Heather and Charles Duffy, receiving the initial diagnosis for their youngest daughter, Charlie, was one of the most confusing, shocking and scary things they could imagine.

“My husband and I had no knowledge about cerebral palsy, let alone how it would affect our daughter and what her future would hold,” says Heather. “In the beginning, we educated ourselves by doing a lot of online research. Charlie’s physical therapist at the time wasn’t familiar with the diagnosis nor did she have any training working with someone with cerebral palsy. That’s when our case manager referred Charlie to United Cerebral Palsy (UCP) of Central Arizona for physical therapy and family resources, which changed our lives forever.”

Nominating Charlie as a UCP Ambassador was an obvious choice for the 70-year-old nonprofit organization, UCP of Central Arizona.

“Charlie was chosen as an ambassador because she faithfully came to therapy and made huge strides throughout the years,” says Karla Verdugo, marketing manager at UCP of Central Arizona. “Charlie embodies the ‘Life without Limits’ spirit UCP stands for and is an inspiration to everyone she comes in contact with. Her story demonstrates what UCP is all about – that everyone has a champion within.”

When she was just three, Charlie was diagnosed with hemiplegic cerebral palsy which affects the entire left side of her body including her left leg and hip. In addition to countless hours of physical and occupational therapy, she has undergone more than 20 medical procedures. She has had her Achilles tendons and hamstrings cut and lengthened and a metal extender plate inserted into her femur. She has endured Botox treatments every six months and a serial casting process for her leg twice a year for the last decade.

When most people look at Charlie now, they see a confident teenager. She’s an honor roll student, a star softball player who just went to semifinals for state with Northwest Christian High School, and a girl who has dreams to get a college sports scholarship. But that wasn’t always the case. Charlie has encountered a lot of adversity in her 15 years.

“When I first started going to UCP I was unable to skip, unable to gallop and unable to balance on one leg,” Charlie says. “I spent months learning how to move both arms just to be able to run. These are things most kids take for granted, but for me, these relatively simple movements took months – even years – to perfect in physical therapy.”

“United Cerebral Palsy of Central Arizona will be part of our lives and Charlie’s life forever,” Heather adds. “Without them Charlie would not be where she is today.”

Ambassadors represent UCP in public and help create awareness of the organization’s mission to advance the independence, productivity and full citizenship of people with disabilities.

For Charlie, being a UCP Ambassador provides an opportunity to use her voice to bring awareness and compassion to children and adults with special needs. She is proud to inspire and motivate others to be their best selves, no matter what challenges they encounter.

“There was not one second I was ashamed or embarrassed for being different from other people,” Charlie says. “I was taught from a very young age that you don’t have to fit in or look like the person standing next to you. My disability doesn’t define me as a person. I hope my experiences encourage people to never judge a book by its cover because you don’t know the incredible journey and often massive hurdles some people have had to overcome.”