From growing up as a first-generation American to overcoming sudden paralysis, 27-year-old David Markovich has quite the interesting story. These days he is executive director of Northern Virginia Hebrew Congregation in Reston, which is where this interview took place.
How did your family come to be in America?
I’m first generation here. English is actually my second language. My first was Russian. My father came to the United States in 1979, from present-day Ukraine. My mom immigrated from the Soviet Union to Israel and [they] met in Israel.
There was no strong rationale for them to go to the United States, other than the fact that my brother and I would benefit from that. And so, I’m really thankful for that. I’m the first generation of my family to be able to freely practice our faith.
I heard you started your own Hillel. Can you tell me about that?
I went to a private Jesuit university: John Carroll. I picked it because it was located in University Heights [near Cleveland, Ohio], where I grew up. I always had affinity toward it. I started to realize there are a lot of Jewish students [there.] What’s unique about [the school] is that it’s situated right in the middle of an Orthodox Jewish community.
So, I was at a time in my life where I wanted to do something. I had my creative juices flowing. So I decided to start a Hillel. What was really cool was that it got a lot of attention. At one point we had a hundred or more students coming to all of our programs and they weren’t just Jewish students. A lot of them were students of different faiths who were coming to learn about Judaism.
What else happened there?
That was when I realized I really had an affinity for working with older adults and I volunteered quite a bit with senior living communities. All the assisted living communities I worked at were Jewish, so I went to [the University of Southern California] to pursue a double master’s in health care administration and gerontology. I created a concept design for products to help disabled persons and older adults stand up in the shower. That was neat that I was able to use my own experience to generate a product.
You were a paraplegic, right?
When I was just about to graduate John Carroll, a week before graduation, I woke up and within a matter of half an hour I was paralyzed from the waist-down. Completely paralyzed. It was completely startling, of course. I was diagnosed with an auto-immune condition called transverse myelitis. It’s a condition which five out of a million people have, and two thirds of people do not fully recover.
Every single doctor I saw told me that it was unlikely for me to be able to walk again. I did some treatment and I was shuttled to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. Six hours in the
ambulance, and that night I developed a pulmonary embolism and went into atrial fibrillation.
I really went through a lot of rigorous therapy, and I have a lot of people around me to thank for my recovery. And you’ve seen me, you could probably never tell that I was once paralyzed from the waist down. And now, I’m able to share that story, and I think that’s maybe why this all happened.
That year I ended up running a half marathon. I felt like it was almost my obligation to show people, if I can do this, you can definitely achieve what you want to achieve.
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Correction: This story originally reported David’s age as 25. He is 27.