Qatari Comedian and Model Nawaal Akram. Source: Doha News. https://dohanews.co/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/IMG_1002-1.jpg
Breaking beyond the barriers
As of early October 2017, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) released their list of the 100 most inspirational women. Each year, the list commemorates women from around the world who have pushed the barriers of what has been thought to be possible. It celebrates the unseen hard work carried out each day by these women, and ultimately places a well-deserved spotlight on the selected group. The list ranges from a Brazilian Olympic rower, all the way to a healthcare entrepreneur from India. However, one woman on the list stands out from them all. This woman truly exemplifies the phrase “breaking through barriers” as she has defied all odds against her, coming out on top with an amazing organization and story to tell. Her name is Nawaal Akram, and she is from Qatar. Akram has muscular dystrophy and was denied acceptance into secondary school, but despite this went on to become a comedian, a model, as well as to create a regional support group called Muscular Dystrophy Middle East.
Who is Nawaal Akram?
Nawaal Akram, as previously stated, was born and raised in Qatar, a region in the Middle East that sits on a peninsula within the Persian Gulf. At the age of 10, Akram was told she was not able to continue pursuing her education due to her neuromuscular disease. The specific disease Akram has is known as Duchenne muscular dystrophy. This disease is known to worsen with age, and confined Akram to a wheelchair at the age of 12 after she had fallen and broken her leg. This worsened her condition by causing the muscles to become even more weak.
Nawaal Akram’s parents searched various options for schooling after initially being turned away, and were met with the same responses from the other schools with which they explored. Undeterred, Akram took advantage of any education she could gain access to, with a majority of it coming from her parents. “Whatever I am today and what I am doing today, it is all because of my parents. They home-schooled me and taught me everything I need,” Akram said.
Despite being in a wheelchair for a large portion of her life, Nawaal Akram continued to achieve feats that are impressive no matter what physical condition that she is in. In 2014, Akram took to the stage to try her hand in stand-up comedy, after taking a liking to the type of performing while watching it on the internet a few years before. Before venturing into this unknown world though, Akram did have her doubts. “I thought…what if it does not go well. I was afraid people might not laugh because they might not want to be seen laughing with a physically-challenged person (in the frame) and that it would be construed as bad,” Akram stated. While still hesitant at the time, her mom had again showed relentless support and advice, ultimately motivating Akram to take the bound into the world of stand-up comedy. This eventually led to her being able to perform art Stand Up Comedy Qatar (SUCQ), which indeed helped her to cross the threshold into opportunities she may have never imagined.
This constant drive to take advantage of life’s opportunities has been a recurring theme for Akram. Her attitude remains positive, as she was quoted in a 2015 interview as saying, “I am on a wheelchair; I think I would not have had these chances that I have now to learn new things and to see people differently. Even people, when they get to learn from me about my disability see the needs for people with disability from a whole new perspective.” The leaps and bounds she has made have included her pursuit in stand-up comedy, as well as modeling, the starting of her support group, Muscular Dystrophy Middle East, and of course her most recent accomplishment of earning her spot on BBC’s 100 most influential women for the year of 2017.
What is Muscular Dystrophy?
Muscular dystrophy consists of various types, but is summed up as a disease by which the body weakens over time, as the muscles lose more and more mass. The most common among all of the types of muscular dystrophy is in fact Duchenne muscular dystrophy. This specific disease is most often seen in younger children, primarily males, but can be seen in other cases as well, such as the case with Nawaal Akram. As the disease worsens, not only will the muscles weaken, but breathing may also become difficult. This can also lead to trouble swallowing foods, requiring close care for the more severe cases of muscle dystrophy.
Muscular dystrophy stems from mutations that inhibit the development of the muscle proteins essential for producing as well as maintaining healthy muscles. More specifically, the mutations are present on the X chromosome. Although the different types of dystrophy comes with a different set of mutations, all forms disable the body’s ability to produce what is known as dystrophin. Dystrophin is a protein responsible for constructing and repairing muscles. The disease is genetic, and is more likely to be seen in individuals who have a family where muscle dystrophy has been present.
As was the case with Nawaal Akram, the initial stages of the disease are noticeable, but not as severe as the later stages. At the age of 10, Akram’s muscles began to become noticeably weaker. She did not need the assistance of a wheelchair at this point in her life, but was beginning to lose the ability to do the most basic actions, such as walk up a flight of stairs. At the earlier points of the disease, it is common for the muscles to begin stiffening, with a noticeable amount of pain as well. This part of the progression of the disease also brings frequent falls, which was encountered by Akram, as was previously mentioned. By this point, the muscles will then weaken at a faster rate, resulting in the inability to stand or walk at all.
What Does the Future Hold?
In regards to the disease, there are no cures at this point in time. There are however both physical and medical treatments to slow symptoms and the progression of the disease. The treatments often consist of what are called corticosteroids, which help increase muscle strength. Another form are heart medications, as muscular dystrophy can potentially affect the heart. In addition to medications, another way in which individuals with the disease can combat its progression is with general exercise and stretching, with an emphasis on range of motion for various body parts.
With Nawaal Akram, the future is bright, as she looks towards progressing awareness for the disease. Her intent is to help others understand that she is fully capable of living a fulfilled life, and wants to bring smiles to all who she comes across. This has been ever present, with her plethora of achievements, which can ultimately prove to all with muscle dystrophy that there is indeed hope. Akram wants to also rid of the stigmas that have come along with the disease, as she has proved that one can make their life a great one while fighting against muscle dystrophy. She has made significant progress in making this vision a reality and shows no sign of slowing down.