It was an exciting day for Julian Dombrowski and his family in early May, when he was accepted into an online graduate program in creative writing at Southern New Hampshire University. Dombrowski, 32, is wheelchair-bound with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a muscle disease that begins in childhood. The illness affects one in 3,500 male births.
When Dombrowski was small, his pediatrician uncle noticed something wrong in his movement as he rose from sitting on the floor or walked up stairs, and that he fell frequently. The uncle suggested that Julian have a blood test. He was diagnosed at age 5 with the most severe form of muscular dystrophy, but “I was never made a victim,” Dombrowski told the AJP. “That’s how I was raised. I’ve never been a professional patient.”
His condition, which is caused by a genetic mutation, gets progressively worse over time. Dombrowski is intent on his writing, which he does daily, using the voice recognition computer program Dragon Dictate. He also goes twice weekly to Arts for All, a local nonprofit, where a facilitator trained to act as his hand moves a laser pointer to create his painting on canvas. “We have a good connection,” says Dombrowski.
“My tenacity to survive and to live my life to the best of my ability brings satisfaction to my life,” affirms the oldest of Bonnie and Joe Dombrowski’s four sons. “He struggles every day,” says Bonnie. “Julian’s body has gotten weaker and weaker. What’s most important is Julian’s heart and head, which shows the strength of his character and spirit. If his brothers or we were ever asked, who’s your hero, we wouldn’t say Martin Luther King or [Mahatma] Gandhi. ‘It’s Julian,’ we’d all say. His life is a heroic endeavor.”
Dombrowski makes it so every day. “He’s organized his own life,” adds his mother. Following his graduation from Tucson High Magnet School, Dombrowski opted to take a variety of courses at Pima Community College for five or six years while he figured out what to do next. He transferred to the University of Arizona in 2007 to pursue creative writing, and received a bachelor’s degree in English in 2013. He had already published “Zens’ War,” a sci-fi, apocalyptic e-book in 2012. “It’s on Amazon,” says Dombrowski. “I’m working on a sequel plus another sci-fi novel. It’s about surviving tragedy when the cards are stacked against you.”
He’s also writes in other genres, including poetry:
Light from Darkness
How to stay sane in an insane world?/ There is only darkness in the absence of light/I looked for you in the darkness of night/Somehow it seems that my mind has unfurled/I wish that I could find the truth/If only I could find the proof.
“I read a lot, work on crosswords, and talk about philosophy, religion and politics — with a spiritual bent,” he says. Dombrowski finds others who have similar interests through online meet-ups and often goes to Bookman’s, the used bookstore on Grant Road, and to Campbell Avenue coffee shops, accompanied by his caregiver.
Although he’s closer to agnostic, “I’m interested in all religions. My mom is Jewish and my dad is Catholic,” he says.
“He gets mad at God a lot,” says Bonnie, a local attorney, “without saying ‘poor me.’”
Every afternoon Dombrowski naps for a few hours prior to watching “Jeopardy” on television. “He’s really good at it,” says his brother Derek, 28, arriving for a weekend visit.
His father, Joe, used to teach at Project MORE High School and recalls that when he was younger, “Julian used to come over a lot. Acceptance from the kids was huge” to him.
Clearly, his family’s support is also huge. “In Buddhism, as I understand it,” says Bonnie, “you keep coming back. I would say Julian is learning how to live without his body. He’s an old spirit. He sees with a clarity and focus that other people don’t have, like me. I’m worried about this or that. He doesn’t have that at all. Julian can see to the heart of the matter because he sees how fragile life is.”
Dombrowski listens to family members sitting around him and says, “I focus on what I can do, not what I can’t do.”