Madison Rhew was determined to graduate from the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor — even if it meant she had to roll across the stage in a wheelchair.
After a FluMist immunization in 2018, Rhew had suffered a reaction leading to losses in both speech and mobility. Despite previously being a healthy college student, she suddenly had lost her independence.
The Mayo Clinic diagnosed Rhew with a functional neurological disorder in March 2019, and her mom was told there was not much hope.
However, Rhew is a fighter.
On Friday, the Bell County Judge and Commissioners’ Committee on People with Disabilities recognized Rhew with the 2020 Jennifer Phillips Award for Courage — a recognition through the Rusty Awards.
Although recipients are typically recognized during the Rusty Awards banquet at the Bell County Expo Center, this year’s recognitions are being held privately throughout October in response to COVID-19.
“Jennifer Phillips was a beautiful and talented teenager with cystic fibrosis, who died in 1992,” Sue Hamby, who presented the award to Rhew, said. “Madison, like Jennifer Phillips, was a fighter, and determined to overcome her illness. Both are courageous individuals … and to me a courageous individual is one who is ordinary but able to find the strength to overcome overwhelming obstacles.”
Rhew — who is regaining her speech and mobility — was thankful for the award, and expressed her gratitude to those who have supported her in the months since her diagnosis.
“I’m just happy that she’s got her life somewhat back to normal,” Rhew’s mother, Lynette Munoz, said.
Each year eight awards are presented to individuals, honoring “those who inspire while living with a disability, bring notice to people with disabilities through advocacy and further the case of people with disabilities.”
Bonham Middle School student Christopher Reyes, who uses a wheelchair, was recognized Friday morning when his family received the 2020 Jim and Daurice Bowmer Family of the Year Award.
“Jim and Daurice Bowmer were co-founders of Peaceable Kingdom Retreat for children with disabilities,” Peggy Cosner, the committee chair, said. “This award is provided to a family that provides support and encouragement to their family and child with a disability.”
The committee said the Reyes family exemplified a “never give up” attitude.
“I would like to thank (Temple Independent School District’s) Kristy Delony and Caitlin Reyes for presenting my family with this award,” Joleen Reyes, Christopher’s mom, said. “Being a single mom … their support made a big impact on Christopher’s life.”
Joleen Reyes continually emphasized that support.
“When he was in the hospital he suffered a seizure a few days before Thanksgiving, and the Bonham Middle School staff would come and give us gifts … even an elementary school in Temple donated food.”
Caitlin Reyes, Christopher’s teacher, smiled as she said he is a joy to teach.
“He makes my heart,” she said. “I was a first-year teacher last year, and it was a very hard pill for me to swallow knowing he was in the hospital ... so I just wanted to be there for him and his mom the best I could.”
Videos are being captured of each presentation, and Cosney said an online award ceremony will be stitched together for social media by Oct. 30.