September 23, 2021
Written By: Michelle Pawelski
Positive, Positive, Positive – Executive Housekeeper Tammy Passamonte has the words written on the white board outside her office in the Rushmore Plaza Holiday Inn and encourages her staff every day to live by them. She personally knows the power of being positive. The 54-year-old cruises through the hotel overseeing the cleaning of all 205 rooms, logging thousands of steps daily. No one would guess that nearly 30 years ago doctors told Tammy she would never walk again.
At age 26, Tammy took a fall down some stairs sending her to the chiropractor to get adjusted. “[The chiropractor] told me I needed to lay flat for three days, but on the second day I couldn’t use my limbs and couldn’t speak; I was slurring. They took me to the hospital and that’s when they figured out what was going on with me.” Doctors diagnosed Tammy with myasthenia gravis, a form of muscular dystrophy, and said she would be wheelchair bound for the rest of her life.
Tammy, however, had other plans. “I said ‘watch me.’” She was a single mother with two young kids and was going to prove the doctors wrong—even refusing to use a wheelchair to leave the hospital. “It was hard, but I was very determined, especially to be able to provide for my children.” Tammy taught herself how to use her muscles again. “I used to teach aerobics when I was younger, so I used the band to try to get strength back in my legs and arms—things I could do sitting on the floor.” With the help of her kids, she went from crutches to a walker and then to a cane. When she turned 30, she was walking on her own. “I really think it is mind over matter,” she said. “If you are always thinking you are sick, you are going to be sick.”
While she fought to walk again, and is likely the fastest walker at work, Tammy deals with her disease daily. “I get a burning sensation through my whole body. I get cramps. My muscles get very fatigued, and my legs give out on me a lot, but I’ve learned to go with it. I relax myself if I fall, so I don’t break anything.” She also has flare ups where she again loses use of her legs and her speech. However, she goes back to the bands and works her way back just like she did decades before.
For six years, Tammy has worked for the Rushmore Plaza Holiday Inn moving her way up to executive housekeeper, a physically demanding position. However, Tammy takes it all in stride. She wakes up early and arrives at work to prepare, mentally and physically, for her day. She knows her body and how much it can take. “I can do what everyone else does; I just can’t do it as long.” She also credits her company for working with her and being understanding of her disability. “These are amazing people to work for. They saw my potential and kept moving me up. They are very understanding with everything.” Tammy said a common cold that will take someone two or three days to recover from may take her 10. “I don’t have that fighting immune system, so it takes me longer and everyone at work is so understanding about that.”
Most employees did not even know of Tammy’s disability until she was asked at a manager retreat to reveal something about herself that no one knew. “I said I had muscular dystrophy and doctors told me I would never walk again.” Her coworkers, as with most people she tells, were astonished at her story and her vibrancy. She continues to amaze even her doctors. During her routine physicals, tests show she has no muscle strength. “They don’t understand how I am doing what I am doing.” They also continue to be astounded at how active she was before her diagnosis. Growing up in Edgemont, S.D., Tammy was a tomboy involved in nearly every sport and the first girl to play football. At the age of 8, she was even waiting tables, doing dishes, and cooking at the 24-hour restaurant owned by her mother and grandmother. “Doctors didn’t understand how I was able to be in sports as much as I was and how successful I was at it for so long,” she said.
Doctors no longer underestimate Tammy’s determination to accomplish what she sets out to do, and Tammy now shares her secret to her success with everyone – Positivity, Positivity, Positivity.