Rice University PhD graduate defies the odds after being diagnosed with muscular dystrophy

Rosie Nguyen Image
Friday, May 31, 2024
Rice University PhD graduate defies the odds
Felix Wu, a 26-year-old man diagnosed with muscular dystrophy, beats the odds by graduating from Rice University with a PhD.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Doctors predicted he wouldn't make it past his 20s after being diagnosed with muscular dystrophy. Not only has Dr. Felix Wu defied the odds, but he's also been thriving after graduating from Rice University. Now, he's working towards making the world a better place for people with disabilities.

It was a day Lisa Hu and Gang Wu will never forget. Felix Wu was only about 3 years old when his family visited different doctors to find out what was impacting his mobility and causing him to fall frequently.

Finally, they got an answer from one of their physicians. It was Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD). They grappled in shock when they were given a grim prognosis that their son would likely only live to be between 18 and 25 years old.

"Our world turned upside down. The landscape suddenly became something we didn't know. At the time, treatment was very limited, and there's no cure. So it was very tough for us. Our focus became to slow the progression of the disease," Hu said.

According to the Muscular Dystrophy Association, muscle weakness is the primary symptom of DMD.

It can begin as early as 2 years old, first affecting the muscles close to the core of the body and then later impacting the limbs. Children with the condition may have difficulty jumping, running, and walking.

READ MORE: Teacher refuses to let muscular dystrophy slow him down

Felix Wu shared that it was tough as a child when he couldn't participate in the same physical activities as his classmates or when he had to navigate in and out of buildings that weren't very accessible for people with disabilities. However, he said what affected him the most was how others perceived him.

"I've been questioned about what I'm able to achieve, and it's taken opportunities away from me. There's been assumptions that I'm not intelligent or mature enough to handle certain things. When I did succeed, sometimes people would assume I took some type of shortcut, and that's how I got here," Felix Wu said.

Felix Wu's condition was something his parents couldn't control. So they started focusing on what they could control, taking their son to see the world and supporting him in whatever he wanted to do.

"All we can do is give him our love and educate him as much as we can about DMD. We let him make his own decisions about his health and tell us what he wants or doesn't want to do," Hu said.

One of their favorite activities to do together as a family is visit national parks around the country, and they have been to more than 70 so far.

Felix Wu also loves playing video and board games in his spare time, such as Pokemon and Magic: The Gathering.

But Felix Wu has also always been extremely studious. To Hu and Gang Wu's surprise, he committed to doing well academically and ranking at the top of his class, pointing out that his parents never pressured him to get good grades.

"He's very self-driving, and on top of that, he's very smart. He learns things very fast. We're happy that he has been doing so good. But sometimes, we have to remind him to slow down and take care of his health," Gang Wu said.

SEE ALSO: A unique concert for boy battling muscular dystrophy

As Felix Wu reflected during Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, he said his parents, who are originally from China and came to the U.S. in the 1980s for college, are the inspiration behind his success.

"I think about how lucky I am for the resources I have to this day that they didn't have. That's definitely motivated me to keep moving forward," Felix Wu said.

For the last nine years, Gang Wu has made the hour-long drive between Katy and Rice University to get Felix to class.

But this month, they took their last ride to campus. Felix Wu graduated with a PhD in psychological sciences focusing on industrial-organizational and quantitative psychology, making him a "triple owl" for earning his bachelor's and master's degrees at the prestigious institution.

"No matter what the stakes are for his future, we know Felix is going to fight. It doesn't matter if he's going to win or not, he's going to fight," Gang Wu said.

Felix Wu, who is now 26, is taking a short break before starting his new job at a consulting firm.

He told ABC13 he plans to continue using his research and data to help improve workplace conditions for people with disabilities.

"People with disabilities are employed at a far lower rate than everybody else. That's important because, economically, you need a job to actually be able to survive and thrive. This is an important area where I can bring my own experience and show that there are still a lot of things that people with disabilities can do," Felix Wu said.

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