Other news - Tuesday, 17 April, 2018

RJ Mitte – ‘Disability does not discriminate’

Motivational speech – The visit of an unconventional Hollywood star in Pécs


RJ Mitte’s pieces of advice to the future doctors

The young actor spent most of his childhood in hospitals and different treatments so he gained many experience about the situation of disabled people in the health care system; nowadays he works with doctors in several foundations in order to improve the situation of disabled people. In the course of his speech he gave some advice to the general medicine students.

The therapy should not end in the hospital. The health care system in many cases does not take into account the fact that disabled people can do a lot for improving their conditions – in case they receive the resources required for that. For this reason, therapy cannot be limited to hospitals and health care institutions; patients have to be taught so that they can improve themselves at home as well – they should not only survive but they should also live.

Preserve your sympathy and be honest with your patients! In the devouring hospital routine it may be the hardest to take this simple advice but its significance is huge. It is important to provide and maintain trust with disabled children and their parents, and a part of this is that we trust them to an extent that we provide them information about their condition, even if the truth is painful at the same time. With this we make it easier for the patients as well.

Every patient is a separate world. Take your time and energy to get to know your patients as it is also an opportunity for learning that does not end with getting the medical degree. The best opportunity for our own training is not reading books but the patients themselves; do not be afraid of learning from them and of continually training yourselves.

RJ Mitte, who became a successful actor and society activist in spite of his lasting brain damage, gives hope to plenty of disabled people. The young star of Breaking Bad held a full house presentation in Pécs for the invitation of the Medical School’s English-German Student Council.


written by Miklós Stemler


In the midst of the big ovation the superficial spectators would have hardly guessed what a hard and successful fight is behind the 26-year-old actor stepping on the stage. Although he limps a little and has some speech impediments too, the extent of these are not that prominent, and we need to be familiar with his past in order to have an understanding about how far he has come since his difficult childhood – and to recognise the fact that the good mood and cheerful personality that captivate the audience even in the first moment are not just smokescreen. The American actor born in 1992 was adopted after a birth loaded with complications and it became obvious in his childhood that he struggles with serious coordination and articulatory problems. The doctors of his hometown could not determine the cause of the problem for a long time, and only when he was three years old could they diagnose cerebral palsy, i.e. paralysis originating from the brain.

‘We are the strongest when we are the weakest’

Long and many times painful therapy followed, as a part of which his legs were put between stiffeners so that they did not bend – as the cheerful actor recalled he looked and moved like a zombie in the popular The Walking Dead series. Because of his strange looks, burdensome movement and speech he became a popular target of nursery school and primary school bullying, which is not surprising in the light of the fact that according to the statistics quoted by him, the chances of a disabled child and young adult to become the subject of bullying is three times higher than that of their able-bodied peers. But the hard work was finally successful since RJ Mitte learned to walk without assistance and his speech improved a lot as well.

To achieve all this he needed great determination apart from the physical effort. As he stated: ‘I have never seen myself as someone with disabilities. According to my veteran marine grandfather’s saying, the ‘I am not able to do it’ phrase is not the statement of a fact but the result of a personal decision. If we want something very badly, we are able to do it. It is not true that we cannot develop and grow.’ He needed the determination because when he was about 10 years old, shortly after the birth of his sister and the divorce of his parents, his mother had a severe accident and therefore a great part of the household chores fell on him as well. However, all this has only made him stronger. ‘We tend to see disabilities as weaknesses and from a certain point of view they are. Besides this, in reality we can find power in this weakness if we face it. We all get into difficult situations in the course of our lives but we are the strongest when we are the weakest: in these moments we face our true selves.’

Role model from a lonely teenager

He was a teenager when an accidental encounter changed the life of his family. His little sister was discovered by a casting agent to be the face of an advertising campaign, and the family moved to Los Angeles. As he said, acting was a natural choice here. ‘In Los Angeles a teenager like me, without friends, cannot do much: you either join a band or an acting school. I decided to do the latter.’ After some smaller roles the breakthrough came when he was 15 years old: a permanent role in the series called Breaking Bad where RJ played the disabled son of Walter White, the main character who became a ruthless drug lord from a gentle father due to his terminal illness.

Breaking Bad wrote TV history during its 5 seasons and RJ had a great role in it since before the series it was extraordinarily rare to choose a disabled actor for the role of a disabled character. The actor used the opportunity that came with it and he became the spokesman of disabled people worldwide. There is a lot to do in the film and TV industry as well because, as he said, while 20 per cent of the population has some sort of disability, only 2 per cent are represented in films and series. As a child the actor came across only one TV character whom he could, to some extent, identify himself with as someone having cerebral palsy; it was Timmy, one of the characters of the satirical animated cartoon series, South Park, the one who spends his life in a wheelchair and is capable only of inarticulate shouts.

We all need sympathy

Although his character received great popularity, younger Walter did a lot for the different disabilities to be accepted and understood better; the road is still very long and according to the actor, it does not help the cause that in many cases such characters are in the movies and series only because of the obligatory political correctness and not because they really want to tell something about people living with such conditions.

When he is not shooting the young actor travels the world as a charity ambassador and actively participates in several charity organizations as well. He talked about the importance of sensitivity and sympathy to the general medicine students in Pécs and while it sounds simple, according to the experiences of RJ who spent most of his childhood in hospitals, he often gets lost in the everyday health care drudgery. However, not only the disabled are dependent on all this since the main message of the Breaking Bad star was that in reality there is no difference between the disabled and the able-bodied; as he said towards the end of his speech: ‘When you looked at younger Walter did you see someone with disabilities? I did not: I saw a young boy living his life. And this is merely all we can wish for.’


An insidious condition that can be overcome

The paralysis originating from the brain, namely cerebral palsy cannot be traced back to one single cause. The condition mostly develops during pregnancy, in rarer cases during complications when and after giving birth; genetic reasons can also play part. On average it concerns 0.2 per cent of the population but its occurrence can be significantly higher in disadvantaged social groups.

Although brain damage is permanent, considerable progress can be achieved with the proper and persistent therapy due to our brain’s adaptive capacity in case the treatments begin in a sufficiently young age.

RJ Mitte is a great example for this because today he can move without assistive devices and his speech disorder is also minimal. This implies that the young actor’s case belongs to the less severe ones: the condition of younger Walter, the character he plays in Breaking Bad is worse.

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