By Ed Brock
There is still plenty of strength in Dhoruba Asadi's handshake and in his heart despite the disability that hobbles him.
He draws that strength from all the people who have helped him in the years since a spinal injury has gradually forced him to walk with a walker or cane. The help came in small ways from strangers and in the simplest forms, such as picking up Asadi's keys when he dropped them or opening a door for him.
"Opening the door is a small thing for some people but it's a great thing for me," 50-year-old Asadi said. "It showed me that not everybody in the world is a dog."
And now he's ready to share that strength with others. Asadi said he's trying to form an organization he's dubbed "Help, Inc." that would provide equipment like canes and walkers to people with disabilities without forcing them to wade through red tape.
"They shouldn't have to go through 15,000 documents and sign their life away for a cane," Asadi said.
Now a resident of Riverdale, there is unassuming pride in Asadi's voice when he says he is originally from Chicago. A father of four, Asadi worked in the security field for most of his life, until one night nearly five years ago when he was spending time with his son.
"He and I were in the basement playing with weights. You know how fathers and sons do," Asadi said.
At one point Asadi did two sets of "squats," a weightlifting exercise in which the bar of weights sits on the shoulders while the exerciser squats down, bending only their knees, and then stands up again.
He felt fine even after completing the exercise, until the next morning.
"I got up from bed and fell to the floor," Asadi said. "I was a little bit stunned because that never happened before."
The following week he began experiencing a weakness in his knees that continued to get worse but then suddenly seemed to get better. He thought the problem was gone until two years ago when he began having difficulty walking. It came to a point when he sometimes felt like his feet were on fire.
A MRI revealed that he had a herniated disk in his spine that was bulging inward against his spinal cord. The hernia had "calcified," or hardened, complicating the situation.
In August 2002 Asadi had surgery that relieved only about 30 to 35 percent of the compression. His doctor said they could operate again but Asadi said he has no plans to go back under the knife.
He's getting better. Shortly after the operation he could only press three pounds with one leg. Now he can press 60 pounds.
The pain doesn't show when Asadi goes to work out at the L.A. Fitness health club in Morrow. He smiles easily and chats amicably with two young ladies manning the front desk.
On the weight floor other people help him from time to time, but it's his attitude that keeps him going. The same attitude that got him through physical therapy after the operation.
"I would say he's very self motivated," said Eddie Coverson, Asadi's former physical therapist at Progressive Sports Medicine and Physical Therapy in Riverdale. "I would tell him to do something 10 times and he would do 30."
Coverson said he remembers some of the difficulty Asadi had in wrestling with his insurance company over canes and other mobility aids and he thinks a "fair number" of his other patients would benefit from an organization like Help, Inc.
It's a humbling experience, Asadi said, realizing you need help from others. But to give the help would be even more gratifying.
If there is a singular experience that set him in his path toward creating Help, Inc., it would be the one he had during a visit to Vitamin World in Southlake Mall. Asadi got his order and was about to pay when he realized he had forgotten his wallet in the car.
Vitamin World sales clerk Rick Herzberg took out his own credit card and paid for Asadi's order.
"It takes him about 45 minutes to get from his car to the store," Herzberg said. "I just didn't think he needed to go back out to the car."
Asadi paid Herzberg back. Help, Inc. is another way Asadi wants to pay back the world that showed him its more generous face in his times of need.
He is working on getting Help, Inc. incorporated and he is reaching out for volunteers.
"I'm going to need as much help as I can get," Asadi said, adding that he also has to work out how he will acquire the equipment he will turn around and provide to others.
Potential volunteers can e-mail Asadi at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"It's just a great feeling when you help somebody," Asadi said. "I know how I felt when people helped me."