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Double-transplant, cancer survivor paving the way for local disabled students

Her story may have appeared in Glamour magazine, but having a kidney and heart transplant at the tender age of 11 is far from that.

(Photo: Ola Ojewumi) 

Her story may have appeared in Glamour magazine, but having a kidney and heart transplant at the tender age of 11 is far from that.

Odunola "Ola" Ojewumi of Beltsville, Maryland was on a field trip with her classmates at William S. Schmidt, also known as Camp Schmidt, the day her life became nontraditional.

It happened one ordinary day. "All of the sudden I couldn't keep up with the other kids. I passed out," she explained.

And that is when the young Ojewumi learned that she had an underlying heart condition called cardiomyopathy.

Only a year after her diagnosis, Ojewumi had a heart and kidney failure. She was fortunate enough to receive both a heart and kidney transplant only five hours apart.

As if having a kidney and heart transplant was not enough, Ojewumi became a cancer survivor this year.

(Photo: Ola Ojewumi) 

While some believed the odds had been stacked against her since she was a little girl, Ojewumi has a different and more positive outlook on life.

"When I was healthy people would tell me reach for the stars. As soon as I got sick and had a disability people automatically had low expectations of me. People would say 'you can hope to get a receptionist job.'"

Growing up her health impacted her ability to have the so-called conventional life.

"It affected my ability to have the traditional life, to have friends...there were no sleepovers," Ojewumi remembered.

Despite everything she may have missed out on as a child, one thing is for sure, Ojewumi is not missing out on success.

The part-time wheelchair user made up her mind that she would not allow her situation to dictate her life. Ojewumi started college at Howard University and then transferred to University of Maryland. As a minority woman in a wheelchair she quickly noticed that she was not represented in the college population.

"I decided then that I wanted to become an activist," Ojewumi elaborated.

College is where the young activist learned that her voice could be heard and was worthy of being heard. She made up her mind that she wanted to see more people like herself following their dreams and and not letting their "disabilities" hinder them.

While some students spend their refund checks on spring break or new clothes, Ojewumi put her money to a greater cause.

"I started a small nonprofit with a refund check," she recalled.

Project Ascend provides college scholarships to disabled students living in the Washington, D.C. metro area. Her hopes are to assist as many young disabled children and teenagers, help them reach their full potential and find amazing opportunities.

"I want to see fewer stories of people with disabilities who are doing normal things. I want to see us getting degrees, running Fortune 500 companies, breaking barriers..."

And breaking barriers is not unfamiliar to the 26-year-old. In college she completed seven internships to ensure that nobody could shut her down -- but despite all of her hard work and persistence, getting a shot still proved to be very challenging.

"I would go to interviews in a wheelchair and I wouldn’t get a call back... and then I would go to interviews walking and get a call back," she shared.

But she never let that stop her. "Keep pounding the pavement. Eventually the nos will turn in to yes."

And yes they did. Ojewumi is a government employee, a successful activist on Capitol Hill, a Huffington Post contributor, all while she continues to run a non-profit that helps students both locally and internationally.

(Photo: Ola Ojewumi) 

As for her dreams, Ojewumi intends on focusing on her non-profit, international development, writing a book and of course inspiring others.

"Disabled people need to be on television, we need to be humanized. I want us to have institutionalized power. I don't want to be the only person with a disability on Capitol Hill. I want us to move to world changers."

When the times are trying, Ojewumi keeps on pushing forward and reminds us all that glamour is about feeling good in your own skin and not letting anybody break your spirit.