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When he was born, Long Beach resident Josh Bridgewater’s first experience in the world was spinal surgery.

Most of his childhood existed in hospitals, he said.

Now, 40 years later, Josh still battles the problems associated with his birth diagnosis of Spina Bifida Myelomeningocele. Basically, he said, he was born with a large hole in his lower back with his spinal cord exposed outside his body.

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, Spina Bifida is the most common neural tube defect in the United States, with an estimated 166,000 people in the country living with the condition. It occurs in about seven of every 10,000 babies born in the U.S. Three types of the condition exist, with Myelomeningocele being the most severe.

His doctors told his teenage mother that he would most likely never walk, but Josh proved he was more than a statistic—he was a fighter.

“Obviously, they didn’t know who they were dealing with,” he said.

Today, Josh is able to walk — and skateboard when he’s feeling really good — but still uses a wheelchair or crutches when he needs to. The challenges are still aplenty, he said.

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“The hospitals and clinics seemed to be my second home,” he said. “I was always having bowel and bladder problems. Most of my childhood I had to wear a rubber urinary collector device on my leg, as my bladder worked no better than a newborns bladder control. As I aged, I was eventually old enough to have an artificial urinary sphincter implanted in me, ridding me of having to wear the the rubber bag on my leg any longer.”

Josh said he’s had to replace the sphincter five times, including during his honeymoon in which he went to the emergency room three times to have the device replaced.

In total, Josh estimates that he’s had 26 major surgeries because of his condition.

The disability has made it difficult for him to find a job, he said, and much of his financial stability is reliant on his wife, Shawna Bridgewater, who makes $15 an hour as a manager at Buffalo Exchange on Second Street. Josh said he sells vintage clothes at flea markets when he’s feeling healthy.

“I never thought for a minute when I was dating Josh how he would help the household financially once we got married,” Shawna, 32, said. “I just always worked since I was 18 so it wasn’t ever a concern of mine. All I wanted was us to finally not live 1,000 miles away from each other, get married and enjoy each other.”

Josh said he is able to manage his life the best he can but not without the help of countless doctor visits and prescriptions. His medical bills have racked up and the couple, who has lived in Long Beach for four years, had to couch surf among friends. That’s better than the moldy apartment they once lived in, they said, adding that they now live in a clean apartment but have trouble paying for utilities.

josh 3Desperate, the Bridgewaters turned to Long Beach for help.

A fundraiser will be held at Alex’s Bar on Sunday from 1PM to 7PM in Josh’s honor to help him with his finances. Performers like punk/ska band The Originalites and Drop Dead Beats are slated to entertain attendees.

More than 50 businesses have donated services and goods to be raffled off at the event, Josh said. Tickets for the raffles range between $5 and $10, depending on the item.

“I’m so impressed by everyone’s quick response to get on board when they heard what had gotten started for us,” he said. “It’s very heartwarming, exciting and humbling.”

Mike Belk of The Originalites, from Huntington Beach, said the band feels honored to play the show for Josh.

“This is a community that cares,” Belk said. “Josh goes to our shows and helped us get involved with Ogre Skateboards. There was really no hesitation to say yes. As a community should work, it all comes full circle.”

The Bridgewaters have also set up a GoFundMe page for their efforts, and hope to raise $70,000 through the page and Sunday’s fundraiser.

“I know I can speak for both of us that we are not ones who like to ask for help,” Shawna said. “In this tough part of our lives, I learned with all this amazing experience, people really do want to help those in need.  I just never want to burden anyone with asking for help.  But sitting back and looking at this cause for such a positive disabled human being, I would want to help him, too. That makes it a little easier asking for donations.”

Spina Bifida Fundraiser For Josh will take place at Alex’s Bar, 2913 E. Anaheim St., from 1PM to 7PM on Sunday. Proceeds will go to the Bridgewaters for their medical expenses and other living costs.

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