A Holy Trinity Academy grad used a tragedy in her Grade 11 year to help inspire her — leading her to being recognized as one of the top individuals under 40 years of age in Calgary.
“I have a very rare form of muscular dystrophy and I had a surgery and I never walked after that,” said 37-year-old Dayle Sheehan. “I didn’t use any mobility aids prior to the surgery... This just kind of fast-tracked me getting used to something that was potentially coming later in my life and got me living that way and going to school, going to university, meeting new people and living basically as an adult in a wheelchair — while I was still too dumb to know how hard it was.”
There haven't been too many dumb things happen in her life since.
Her being in a wheelchair gives her a different angle to interior design.
“I have been able to get insane, amazing opportunities in designing accessible spaces and working on homes for people for their abilities level as well as able-bodied homes,” Sheehan said. “I feel like I have my own lane in the interior design world to get different projects that other people aren’t the expert at — I have lived and technical school experience.”
She said being in a wheelchair allowed her to share her knowledge in her work.
“I can talk about being on a health-care journey and not knowing where it is going,” Sheehan said. “I ask different questions — how do you currently transfer into the shower, how is it you are going to hang up your clothes, what height do you need that at.
“I have the experience of understanding the little things that makes your day great because it was seamless or makes your day very challenging.”
She is an interior designer — her goal is to also make sure the homes are pleasing to the eye as well.
“The form and function seamlessly blend together to create a very nice home, public space or whatever I am designing, even though it has capabilities the average home doesn’t have,” Sheehan said.
She is willing to share her story of challenges as Sheehan does many public speaking engagements.
“My story isn't just being in a wheelchair, I talk about how having a hard thing come up in your life is something we all have to go through,” she said. “It is just what our hard thing looks like. For some it might be a divorce, it might be being bullied for school. For me, I feel like I am lucky this is my thing (being in a wheelchair) and it is so manageable.”
Sheehan, a 2000 grad at HTA, was in Grade 11 when she had the tragic surgery. The school community – at the former HTA campus, now the present St. John Paul II Collegiate – helped her.
“I loved (teachers) Michelle Balen and Mr. (Joe) Buck, Mr. (Jerome) Cranston and a teacher I think about is Mrs. (Carmen) Ostafichuk,” Sheehan said with a chuckle. “I remember telling her: ‘Whatever job I take I will never use math again after I write my last exam.
“She told me I would have to do math all the time – now I use math every day. She was a great math teacher.”
She said staff and students helped her during those tough times.
“I literally left school and none of the students knew what was up and I came back in a wheelchair,” Sheehan said. “There was a learning curve for my teachers too. I went to Edmonton for physiotherapy and they helped me make sure I had everything I needed.
“It was a very good experience.”
Sheehan is also a director for Cerebral Palsy Kids and Families. She has helped create a course on accessible design for Bow Valley College’s interior design program. She also supports Gems for Gems, a Calgary charity that helps female victims of domestic abuse.
Her interior design business is doing well despite COVID-19, but that pandemic did put some plans on hold.
She was scheduled to get married in August, but is now tying the knot next year.
She was surprised and thrilled to be named to Top 40 under 40.
“To me it is not about being successful – it's about contributing to the city I live in,” she said. “I am hopefully making it a better place to live in some ways.”