CASHMERE, Wash. – Ryan Sutherland will head back to Spokane next week to resume his final semester at Whitworth University. With him will be his father, Steve Sutherland. The Cashmere father-and-son duo have been roommates at the college since 2009.
Stricken with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, Ryan Sutherland is a quadriplegic with very limited use of only his right hand. He uses an electric wheelchair to get around. A crane is used to get him in and out of bed. A ventilator is used to aid his breathing through the night.
Most victims of the disease usually don’t live this long. But Sutherland, 22, wanted to do as much as he could do despite the genetic disease. He became an Eagle Scout and Cashmere High School honor student who acted in plays, sang in the choir and played trumpet in the school band.
He also wants to do as much as he can in his shortened life span to help others grapple with the fears of mortality. He has worked as a counselor for critical care patients at Cascade Medical Center in Leavenworth and aging residents at an assisted living center in Spokane.
His father offered to help him achieve his goal of getting a college degree. Steve Sutherland reduced his hours as a pharmacist to live with his son in a Whitworth dorm. His mother, Debbie Sutherland, would have done the same were it not for the restrictions on coed dorm living.
“I wanted to stay in the dorm to get the whole college experience,” Ryan Sutherland said.
“We don’t know how much time we’ll have,” said his father. “We made the decision early on that we wanted to spend it together. It’s been a gift.”
Ryan Sutherland graduated with a degree in psychology last spring. He’s finishing up a final semester to complete a minor in theology and earn a certificate of ministry. After the semester ends in February, he and his parents will drive to Vermont. They’ll be there when Ryan’s brother, Jared, graduates in May from medical school.