The article below originally appeared in the San Mateo Daily Journal and is being reprinted with permission.

Sarah Funes was an active child who enjoyed swimming, basketball, acting —really anything a kid would love.

Her ability to participate in those things changed when she was 10, however. Two years earlier, Funes began getting headaches, an ailment her mom and doctor first attributed to stress. But when Funes began tripping in track or dropping food trays while visiting the happiest place on earth without an explanation, her family knew something else was up. A scan showed a small, grapefruit-sized brain tumor was causing the issues.

The tumor would change her life —limiting certain abilities, resulting in long hospital stays and new challenges in day-to-day activities. As a result, Funes found activism, particularly in wanting support for youth with disabilities.

Funes, a 19-year-old freshman at the College of San Mateo, is passionate about disability rights. She’s studying political science and added international relations after a trip to Syria this summer where a group of Americans and Syrian youth, all with disabilities, brainstormed to create a Muslim superhero, The Silver Scorpion.

At 12, Funes had a big decision to make: Should doctors remove a brain tumor from her head? Doing so could be fatal, but not doing it would mean living in constant pain.

“I didn’t want to live in pain anymore,” she said.

Funes who lives in South San Francisco but grew up in Redwood City, had to learn to do many things again after that. Her left side was weaker and at times her vision was completely blurry. She had weighed the decision but was still shocked to wake and find half her body wasn’t moving. There was a feeling of hopelessness. She endured a week-long coma before starting to rebuild the movement skills she had mastered earlier in life.

Today it’s hard to tell that walking is a challenge. After long relying on a brace, Funes now uses a small medical device called the WalkAide —an iPod-sized product worn around the calf just below the knee which uses electrical stimulation to combat foot drop.

She’s also become active in disability rights work. In high school she joined the Youth Commission of San Mateo County, worked with the Commission on Disabilities, and works with YO! Disabled & Proud. As such, it made sense that when the opportunity came to travel to Syria through the Open Hand Initiative — a nonprofit founded by businessman Jay T. Snyder — to help create a Muslim superhero who happened to have a disability.

“I always wanted to make a difference in the world,” she said.

In August, she joined a handful of American teens and young 20-somethings traveling to Syria. They worked with disabled individuals from Syria of similar age in small groups to generate superhero ideas. The Silver Scorpion, a Muslim guy who is a double amputee after a mining accident —was the result.

“A disability is not something to be ashamed of. Some of the smartest people had disabilities. … People with disabilities want to be treated just like everyone else,” she said when asked why it was important to create such a character.

Liquid Comics has reportedly taken on making a storyline for the character, which should soon be released in both Arabic and English.

In the meantime, Funes plans to continue her studies in hopes of becoming a civil rights attorney.

Heather Murtagh can be reached by e-mail: or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 105.