He was supposed to be dead by age 14. He’s now 32 and his friends have changed his life forever

East Idaho Survivors

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EDITOR’S NOTE: This story is part of East Idaho Survivors – a regular series where EastIdahoNews.com features people who have survived incredible obstacles. If you know someone who should be highlighted, please email neaton@eastidahonews.com.

REXBURG — When Cesar Ibanez was 10-years-old, doctors told him he likely wouldn’t survive another four years.

The young Washington child had just been diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy – a genetic disorder that destroys the motor neurons in his body responsible for controlling his voluntary muscles.

Ibanez’s mother had taken him to multiple doctors as her son had problems walking and failed to meet important milestones.

Cesar Ibanez was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy as a child. | Courtesy Cesar Ibanez

With tears in his eyes, as he learned that he would be in a wheelchair every day for the rest of his life, Ibanez made a critical decision.

“Instead of this ‘Wo is me’ attitude, I realized that I can do way more,” Ibanez tells EastIdahoNews.com. “My Father in Heaven – he’s put me here in this chair for a reason.”

Every few years, doctors extended Cesar’s life expectancy. First it was age 14, then 18, then 25.

Now the 32-year-old is about to finish his bachelor’s degree at Brigham Young University-Idaho and he has no plans of slowing down.

Ibanez uses a motorized wheelchair to get around the BYU-Idaho campus. | Nate Eaton, EastIdahoNews.com

“After getting that, I want to get a PhD in biomedical engineering and my ultimate hope is to open up my own lab,” Ibanez says.

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Because of his condition, Ibanez is unable to take care of himself so when he moved to Rexburg five years ago, he had to stay in an assisted living facility.

Then he met some guys at his Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints congregation who would change his life forever.

“The first time I saw Cesar I thought, ‘I don’t really have a lot of friends in wheelchairs and I don’t really know why. So I’m gonna go talk to him and see if he’s a cool dude,'” Jake Christensen recalls.

Christensen hit it off with Ibanez and the two became instant friends.

But as Christensen got to know Ibanez more, he was bothered his pal was living in a care center.

“It was just at terrible place to live,” Christensen says. “It was kind of like an old folks home type of set up and it smelled like death in there and it just wasn’t a good environment.”

So Christensen approached his roommates and suggested Ibanez move in with them. The reaction was mixed.

“He got a lot of pushback,” Jacob Justice, Christensen’s roommate at the time, remembers. “A lot of close friends and relatives were saying, ‘Jake, you shouldn’t do this. This is a huge commitment. I don’t think you’re able to do this.'”

After much discussion, the group went ahead and invited Ibanez to live with them.

Ibanez’s roommates took care of him every day for years after they invited him to move in with them. | Courtesy Jacob Justice

That meant someone had to get up early every morning and shower Ibanez, get him dressed for school, feed him breakfast and help him get to class.

At the end of the day, his roommates needed to feed him dinner, get him ready for bed, brush his teeth, tuck him in and provide help throughout the night.

Eventually neighbors and ward members heard about Ibanez and offered to help.

It’s a line of service that has continued for years, even though Ibanez’s original roommates have all graduated and moved from Rexburg.

Nearly a dozen men have helped Ibanez with daily activities over the past few years. | Courtesy photo

“I can’t imagine college without that experience,” Christensen says. “It was something that had a huge impact on my life and made me realize that I am happiest when I am helping others.”

Justice adds, “His mind is so strong and his spirit is so strong. He is a perfect example of what a survivor is.”

Ibanez says his condition and circumstances have taught him to have faith in God that things will work out.

He says his life is proof that anything is possible as he continues to beat the odds and survive one day at a time thanks to some eternal friends.

“It has become my personal mission to be an example or a symbol of hope and a source of inspiration to others,” Ibanez says.

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