You know how grumpy you can get when you’ve spent the night tossing and turning? Not to mention how sluggish you feel the next day? Multiply that irritability and fatigue severalfold and you’ll begin to grasp how miserable Danial Brewer felt pretty much every day for 15 years. The 56-year-old Minneapolis man has sleep apnea, a condition that rouses him dozens of times each night.
The ailment contributes to other serious health problems, including hypertension and diabetes. And it exacerbates his depression and adult attention deficit disorder (ADD).
Despite these challenges, Brewer plunges ahead with classes at Metropolitan State University. He’s already received a B.A. in screen writing, and he’s on course to complete a theater degree at the university this spring. The school’s Student Life and Leadership Development office honored Brewer in 2002 for his perseverance and leadership.
“Danial has been absolutely instrumental in building the theater program at Metropolitan State,” said Gail Smogard, assistant professor in the Metropolitan State College of Arts and Sciences, who oversees the theater program. “Initially, he had so much stage fright and trouble memorizing lines because of his ADD. But he has made such progress that he is now really an inspiration for everyone.”
Brewer figures sleep apnea has hampered him for much of his adult life, even while working full-time in social services, sales and account manager positions during the 1980s and much of the 1990s. Even during that period, he was active in AIDS organizations in the Twin Cities and in San Francisco, where he lived for a few years.
By 1995, however, the problem became potentially life-threatening.
“This may be hard to believe, but I was waking up more than a hundred times an hour,” said Brewer. “My case was so bad that I would stop breathing and start to suffocate. My brain would trigger me to wake up, and I’d start breathing again. But I never got to the level of sleep where rest takes place.”
Constant grogginess forced him to get some sleep whenever he could during the day, often in his car. His impaired concentration compounded his ADD. Combined with mild dyslexia, Brewer often needed to read school material dozens of times to comprehend it.
Zapped of energy, he stopped exercising. Being 60 pounds overweight contributed to his diabetes and hypertension. Battling all these problems took a toll on his mental health, and Brewer sank into a severe depression for years.
Forlorn as he was, he resolved to do something. Surgeries moved his jaw forward and straightened his nose, which had been broken twice because of family childhood abuse. Other surgeries removed his tonsils and soft palate and tightened up soft tissue in his throat, so it wouldn’t collapse during sleep.
All this resulted in his condition, once rated a 12 on a scale of one to 15, improving to a seven. He’s feeling more energetic and his depression has lessened. And even though Brewer is still regularly fatigued and battling diabetes and other ailments, he’s hopeful about his future.
He’s particularly grateful to the Rehabilitative Services of Dakota County for largely paying for his Metropolitan State tuition. Indeed, he considers the schooling pivotal.
“As long as I’m doing interesting things with people and I’m busy, even if I’m tired, it’s better than staying in bed,” he says. “I worked my whole life, and not being able to be active was horrible, so isolating. To be cut off from a social base because of a disability or health problem just exacerbates those conditions.”
He applauds the university for its approach to assisting students with disabilities.
“It’s a great learning institution and I really appreciate how they help nontraditional students,” said Brewer. “It has a real diverse student body, so you don’t stand out if you have a disability. The instructors are very accessible and the classes are smaller, so you get to interact more. I’ve never had a learning situation that was so accommodating.”
Brewer, who receives Social Security disability payments and is eligible for the state’s health insurance program for low-income folks, is hopeful about participating in state Employment Services program to enhance the marketability of older workers. He’s fearful he’s confronting discrimination because of his age, yet he’s trying to remain positive. And he also offers some advice for persons with disabilities: “A lot of people receiving Social Security disability payments aren’t even aware of the programs that can help them. If you can get some retraining or education, do it. Don’t even hesitate.”
Metropolitan State University, a member of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System, provides high-quality, affordable academic and professional degree programs at the bachelor’s and master’s levels. It is the only state university in the Twin Cities metropolitan area.