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Disability limits teacher's movement, not work

Carol Hiltz, a music teacher at Deltona Elementary School, has suffered from spina bifida all of her life. Even though she is forced to walk with a cane, her condition has not stopped her from the doing what she loves best _ helping others.

Spina bifida is a birth defect in which one or more of the vertebrae do not develop completely. Hiltz could not walk until she was 3 years old, and at the age of 18 had to have her leg amputated below the knee.

Although faced with that disability, her dream of becoming a teacher did not die.

Hiltz, who lives in Citrus County, has been a teacher for 24 years. She says she has not encountered any problems keeping up with her pupils.

"Sometimes I'm limited with movement, but the kids are very helpful and understanding," said Hiltz, who has the severest type of spina bifida, where the spinal cord protrudes through the back.

"I can still teach them how to dance and have fun."

Hiltz has not let her condition keep her down. She is a member of the Spina Bifida Association of America and is trying to raise money for a research grant for Shands Hospital in Gainesville.

Her goal is to raise $5,000 for the grant, which she would like to name after her doctor, Dr. Byron J. Masterson. She raises money by selling "old age pills," which are jelly beans in plastic containers with each color representing a different ailment. She makes them herself.

So far, Hiltz has raised more than $1,300.

David Baldwin, a pupil at Spring Hill's Deltona, also has spina bifida. David, who Hiltz has taught, and other pupils like him have inspired Hiltz to try to help find a cure.

"I had surgery 47 years ago, and I'm still seeing people in wheelchairs. I don't want to see other people go through what I went through medically," said Hiltz, who has to return to the hospital occasionally for surgery, or what she calls "tune-ups."

Her dream is to someday see a spina bifida research building at the University of Florida and to see others conquer their disabilities.

In the meantime, Hiltz urges others to "keep active and learn to live with your disease."

How to help

Donations for the spina bifida research grant that Carol Hiltz is raising money for can be sent to Spina Bifida Research, University of Florida Foundation, 408 W University Ave., Suite 500, Gainesville, FL 32601.