A Family Affair: Sisters Share 2006 MDA National Personal Achievement Award

Sisters Kelly Buonaccorsi (left) and Kristen Connors are the recipients of the 2006 MDA National Personal Achievement Award.
by Alyssa Quintero on November 1, 2005 - 1:16pm

QUEST Vol. 12, No. 6

Countless people walk in and out of our lives every day. While many people come and go, leaving little or no trace, the bond between sisters — especially twins — is unbreakableand eternal. It’s a bond that weathers virtually any storm.

Award-winning journalist and author Carol Saline once said, “Sisters function as safety nets in a chaotic world simply by being there for each other.”

In the case of Kelly Buonaccorsi and Kristen Connors, 33, that statement couldn’t be closer to the truth.

The twin sisters from Cranston, R.I., have shared countless experiences throughout their lives. They also share a bond beyond sisterhood: Both are affected by type 2 spinal muscular atrophy.

Buonaccorsi and Connors have been “closer than sisters” and best friends since birth. They’re each other’s rock in a chaotic world.

At age 2, SMA entered the sisters’ lives. In light of this extraordinary challenge, both women have illustrated, in different ways, that anything in life is possible, regardless of obstacles.

“We’re just living our lives just like everybody else,” Connors said. “Everyone faces challenges every day, and ours is just a different kind of challenge.”

Parallel lives

On Jan. 14, 1972, the sisters were born within a minute of each other, and Connors was born first.

Buonaccorsi said, “We’re actually closer than sisters. We’ve grown up together, we’ve been there to help and support each other, and we always knew what the other was going through.”

Like all sisters, the girls sometimes fought when they were younger. But their mother would tell them that one day they’d be grateful for each other.

"We know each other better than anybody,” Connors explained. “We’ve done everything together, and our lives have been so parallel in terms of what we’ve gone through.”

Buonaccorsi is a working mother and wife, while Connors is a constituent caseworker in the Rhode Island office of U.S. Rep. James Langevin. Although they may lead different lives, they do it together. They even see each other every day.

Buonaccorsi and her husband, Michael, built a fully accessible home after they married six years ago. Because the twins are so close, Connors lives with her sister and her family. In fact, when the Buonaccorsis built their home, they made it big enough so that the twins’ parents could live in the house, too. Talk about a family affair!

“It works very well,” Buonaccorsi said. “We’re here to help each other, and it’s a great support system.”

Buonaccorsi and Connors have been determined since they were toddlers to lead fulfilling, meaningful and normal lives. “We want to educate the public about our ability to live a normal life,” Buonaccorsi said. “You can work, be married and have children, even with a disability.”

Now, their years of hard work and perseverance have been recognized, as they exemplify their motto that “anything is possible.” During the Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon, the two were announced as recipients of MDA’s 2006 National Personal Achievement Award.

Meet the sisters

Buonaccorsi, who graduated from Rhode Island College in 1997, has two sons, Connor, 4, and Christopher, 2. She works as a life financial and in-force analyst for Metropolitan Life Insurance in Warwick, R.I., handling correspondence with customers, including requests and problems.

She joined MetLife in May after six years as the nursing home transition coordinator at the Ocean State Center for Independent Living in Warwick.

Like other working mothers, Buonaccorsi strives to meet the demands of family and career.

“It definitely is hard trying to balance work with being a mother and wife. My husband is a big help, and being well organized has really helped me balance,” she said.

“I always wanted to be a mother,” she said. “I love being a mother, and raising my kids is the most rewarding experience I’ve ever had.”

She added, “I hope that my greatest gift to my children, or the biggest lesson, will be that they learn and understand that anything is possible in life. I hope they will learn that from me.”

Connors, who is single, has worked in Rep. Langevin’s office for five years. She’s a constituent caseworker, serving as the liaison between the congressman’s constituents in Rhode Island and the federal agencies from which they’re seeking assistance.

In her position, she’s helped to educate co-workers and others about living and working with a disability. “It’s been a great opportunity to raise awareness.”

Working alongside Langevin has afforded her the opportunity to meet many people that she probably never would’ve met.

When asked whom she enjoyed meeting the most, Connors replied: “Definitely President Clinton. I’ve admired him for a long time, and I love to listen to him speak. It really was an honor to meet someone who was president.”

In addition to the national honor from MDA, this summer Connors earned the 2006 Ms. Wheelchair America title.

Thank you, MDA

Both sisters are honored to have received the MDA Personal Achievement Award. Each admitted to being initially somewhat surprised by the recognition.

The sisters attribute their development into intelligent, diligent, hard-working women to their parents, who “always taught us to concentrate on what we could accomplish, and they taught us to be independent and never to take no for an answer.”

Kelly Buonaccorsi, Kristen Conners and family
Kristen Connors (left) shares a home with Christopher, Connor, Michael and Kelly Buonaccorsi. Photos by Michael Rossi

While honored by the recognition for their personal and professional achievements, Buonaccorsi and Connors also see the MDA achievement award as an important opportunity.

“It gives us a national arena to speak to people about MDA and what the Association does for everyone affected by neuromuscular diseases,” Buonaccorsi said.

Connors said she and her sister have been involved with MDA since the moment they received their diagnoses. They credit MDA for helping to pay for their medical equipment and for sending them to MDA summer camp.

Every year since they were 3 years old, Buonaccorsi and Connors have volunteered at the local MDA Telethon. They check in the phone volunteers and the check presenters when they report to the Telethon site.

"We haven’t missed a Telethon yet, and we don’t intend to,” Buonaccorsi added.

The sisters also are using their distinction as MDA National Personal Achievement Award recipients to help fulfill their top objective — to educate the world about disability issues.

“We want to educate both the disabled and nondisabled communities about disability-related issues,” Connors said.

For example, when Buonaccorsi worked at an independent living center, she encountered several people “who didn’t understand that it was possible for me to do all of these things.” She saw the situation as a chance to educate those people about her life, demonstrating that people with disabilities can be successful and productive members of society.

Connors explained that education has to occur for both those with disabilities and those without them because some people with disabilities are “raised to believe that they can do less.

“I plan to raise awareness by showing them my life,” Connors said. “I’m not the only one living with a disability. There are thousands of disabled people who do what we do every day. People, disabled and nondisabled, just have to take the time to look and learn.”

Like everyone else

One thread of the twins’ bond is that they don’t necessarily believe they’ve achieved anything extraordinary.

“We’re just out there living our lives and doing what we do every day,” echoed both sisters.

They both use power wheelchairs and adapted vans to travel around the city. But they consider those ordinary, run-of-the-mill challenges. For the most part, they don’t allow SMA to run their lives.

Kelly Buonaccorsi and Kristin Connors believe that everyone faces a set of obstacles or challenges on a daily basis. They also agree that success in meeting those challenges depends on how determined you are to overcome the bumps in the road by persevering at every turn.

“We just want people to understand that their goals are attainable, and that anything is possible,” Buonaccorsi emphasized. “Just look at our lives, and what we’ve both accomplished.”

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