Why I Do What I Do - My Inspiration

August 10, 2020

Why I Do What I Do - My Inspiration

Melissa DaSilva

Melissa DaSilva, Managing Director of the Ben Massell Dental Clinic and Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities Services of JF&CS of Atlanta, shares how the her brother’s memory and the support of the agency have become her anchor and guide in delivering services to individuals and families in the wider community.

When I was 5 years old, my family experienced intense change after the illness of my younger brother, Ryan. A misdiagnosis and then hospitalization with spinal meningitis led to severe brain damage. This was in another country; a lessor healthcare system.

Ryan lived the rest of his life, until the age of 44 with profound intellectual and developmental disabilities.

My parents held onto blind hope in the face of multiple prognoses of Ryan’s early demise- but he tricked even the best neurologists by outliving their predictions by 30 years.

During that time, I had opportunities to witness the worst of our social services system as my parents navigated the maze of agencies and programs supported by CMS. Agencies in business to ensure that Ryan would have a life of dignity. Sadly, we did not locate the right fit for Ryan so he lived all of his life with us and then just my parents after I left home for college. We gave up on the “system” early in his life after too many encounters with heartless administrators, jaded service providers and careless support staff.

Today, I am in the karmic position of being an I/DD administrator, service provider and manager of support staff and I have to say, it is not always easy to lead with my heart, hold my tongue or champion the business or system that now includes me. What does come easy is empathy.

I started this role with an empathy born of experience as a family member of a loved one with profound disabilities. Since then, my capacity for empathy has expanded through the support of leadership at JF&CS. I do not believe that I could be an effective Director of I/DD services without such support.

Burnout is all too common in I/DD services and I am so thankful to be part of an agency that understands and appreciates the complexity and reward of our program. This and my brother’s memories are my anchor and guide in delivering services to individuals and families in our community. They support my efforts to lead with my heart, care deeply for our clients and team members and work tirelessly to provide the best care possible.

My brother’s life and now memories remain the greatest of blessings.

Melissa DaSilva