Brian Shaughnessy – Advocate, humorist, and squeaky wheel

The Squeaky Wheel Squeaks

Before you watch Johnny’s interview with Brian Shaughnessy, here’s what you should know about Brian…

Brian Shaughnessy’s life story reads like an unbelievable novel.  At 14 years old, he was hit by a car and left to die in a ditch.  It took a month in the hospital to recover.  At 16, he received a $50,000 settlement.  When he was 24, he began experiencing numbness in his right finger and thumb.  In a month it had spread up his arm.  Medical testing revealed a growing cyst in his spinal canal and he was told by doctors that he needed surgery to remove it or he’d face paralysis. When he awoke from surgery, he discovered the procedure that was supposed to actually prevent the worst-case scenario may have exacerbated it.  Brian was paralyzed.

“Those first two to four years after breaking your neck or becoming quadriplegic – man, those are bleak, just awful times,” he says.  “But for my family, my girlfriend at the time, my friends, and my spirituality, I wouldn’t be here to talk about it now.  I’d have eaten a hundred valium and said, ‘Nevermind.’”

But he didn’t.  After a long recovery, Brian moved to New Mexico and eventually Hawaii, where he is today.  In the years since his tragic surgery, he’s earned Bachelor’s degrees in English and a Bachelor’s and Master’s in Theater, which he used in founding Open Door Theatre, a company that produces works by, for, and about people with disabilities.  He got married, and with his wife Amy, adopted a son with special needs.  And as a result of experiencing firsthand the struggles of living with disabilities, Brian became an attorney, advocating on behalf of himself and his son.

“Every aspect of having a disability you have to deal with bureaucracies – social security, food stamps – all of these nightmares,” he says.  “And all of those people they act like it’s their money coming out of their pocket, and that’s how they’re trained. . . .  My two clients are myself and my son, and as an attorney I stay very busy just litigating for the two of us.”

Sadly, after a battle with cancer, Brian lost his wife four years ago.  But with the help of assistance, he raises his son, Amadeus, by himself –  a job he considers his most important.  It’s become such a vital role that he’s considering expanding it.

“It wasn’t by design that I got a kid with a disability, but now that that’s happened and I’ve got great people that help me out in my house,” he says, “we’re talking about taking in a couple more, as far as foster kids with disabilities.”

It’s a story perfect for a published autobiography, or perhaps a skit on late night TV.  But based solely on the enormous amount of productivity Brian has generated in the 28 years since his quadriplegia, there will most certainly be more chapters to come.

Below is the video of Johnny interviewing Brian.

Download audio MP3 file (Right-click and choose “Save Target As…” or “Save File As…”)

Download the transcript of this interview (PDF)


  1. Karen Peck says:

    Love the site but it’s difficult on my phone – how about a phone friendly version.

  2. Johnny says:

    Hi Karen,

    We can’t set up a mobile theme without a lot of customization because of the way the site is configured… I tried a bunch and can’t make it work. Sorry!

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