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Local disabled photographer needs the community's power for new custom van

Without a rampvan, Tamandra Michaels is missing the sunset of her mother's life.
Photo credit:
Tamandra Michaels

Some may say that getting in and out of a car is a menial task, but for one Hillcrest resident its becoming a skilled and painful chore.  

If you have lived in San Diego for a long period of time, especially the Hillcrest area, you have no doubt seen Tamandra Michaels rolling down city sidewalks in her wheelchair, trusty canine companion by her side.

She is an LGBT activist, an artist and animal lover who constantly gives back to her community through protest, charity and use of her photography skills.

But you may have not seen Tamandra about as frequently as before. That’s because the advancement of her birth defect has rendered her more homebound, along with another tragedy which has also displaced her livelihood.

Tamandra was born with Spina Bifida, and paralysis in her lower limbs. As time wears on, so too does the difficulty.

“My mother was urged to give me up by doctors, who thought there was no way a nineteen- year-old single woman could, or even should care for a baby with such special needs,” said Tamandra.

However, her mother refused their advice and dedicated her life to her disabled daughter, working at night as a bartender while saving her days for doctor visits and intensive homecare.

“She’s an amazing woman, who raised me to be strong, and independent like herself.”

Sadly, eight years ago, her mother was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer which has now permeated into her skeletal system.  The disease has reversed the caregiver roles.  

Tamandra now must be the dedicated supporter, but circumstances are making it hard to be that same altruistic woman her mother brought her up to be.  

Over the years hoisting herself up and down from her vehicle has taken its toll on Tamandra's body and the simple act that many of us take for granted like getting into a car, is more painful and excruciating as days go on.

These setbacks are making it more difficult to care for her mother too, something above all else causes her the most anxiety.

To fix the problem, Tamandra needs a rampvan, an expensive vehicle which would allow her to easily get in and out of the driver’s seat. Not having the means to purchase one herself, Tamandra is entreating the public for assistance.

“Stubbornly self-sufficient, it’s not easy for me to ask for help,” she said. “My independence is so very valuable, and I’ve never let anything hold me back…but I am finding myself in desperate need, and am reaching out to the community for a little help.”

A strong LGBT ally and activist, Tamandra knows the strength and support of the community and using photography, she has documented its advancements and setbacks with Borias her loyal dog in tow.

“The support our community shares with each other through many struggles and milestones," she said. "From the first same-sex marriages at the courthouse, to sit-ins there protesting its revocation; the March for Equality, faces of PropH8, to the actors in 8 the play. With a trusty German Shepherd by my side, we got around! Borias was a bit famous, after shredding some Prop 8 signs at the march! “

Freezing important moments in time through a lens is a way to keep memories from fading away, and that devotion helps many grieving pet owners recover from heartbreak. Tamandra takes photos for petowners of their dogs who are close to death.

“Especially love to with old dogs, and those with disabilities,” she said. “It does my heart good.”

These contributions are beginning to take a back seat, and the loss of doing what she loves because the agony of getting in and out of her SUV brings with it a deepening pall over her life, and it won’t be much longer before it becomes impossible.

“It’s caused chronic shoulder pain, and I face surgery if it continues much longer," she says. "Many days it’s just too hard to get myself in there.”

She says this setback is literally stealing those final moments that should be spent with her mother who for years stood as a pinnacle of devotion and friendship.

“How she still puts on makeup because it makes her feel better, and the bond she shares with her little dog. It’s awful that I have to go a few days between visits, because of my pain,” she said. “A van would enable me to simply roll into it, even drive from my chair. I miss being out in our community, and being active, let alone not being able to work, and pursue my passion for photography as I used to. Though I am grateful for my current ‘dog power’, my new co-pilot Justice True is a dynamo that pulls my wheelchair all over town. He pushes me, too!  A van would enable me to use my powerchair when needed, and continue to pursue competition dog sports with Justice.”

If you would like to contribute to Tamandra's cause for getting a ramp van click HERE