“Life is about choice, and I choose to be productive and happy.”

--Leo Orange, Oxnard College


Leo Orange has a legacy of advocating and educating that extends well beyond his work as the Educational Assistance Center Coordinator at Oxnard College or for opening the first Veterans Center in the District. (It was in 2010 at Oxnard College.)

When Leo was 11, he and his family moved to Burbank from El Paso, Texas. He attended the University of Southern California to study dentistry, but his entrepreneurial spirit called him away from his studies in his junior year. He left school to start a limousine manufacturing company. It turned out to be a short career in manufacturing.

“I was diagnosed with testicular cancer at 29, which metastasized to my aorta. It was a tumor on my aortic valve,” he explained. “I ended up having three other malignant tumors removed and three years of intense chemo. I beat the cancer and I went to Europe with my girlfriend to celebrate life. During the trip, I got in a car accident and broke my neck.”

After spending three months in a Swedish hospital, Leo spent 372 days in a spinal cord rehab hospital in Downey, California. He pivoted his career pursuits and returned to school and attended California State University, Los Angeles, where he earned a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling.

Leo then taught at CSULA for five years in the Rehabilitation Counseling Program, introducing a multicultural counseling course, before finding his way to Oxnard College.

Over the years, he has worked with Committees to Employ People with Disabilities for President Clinton and Governor Gray Davis. He has been invited to speak at numerous conferences and symposiums. After undergoing brainstem surgery in 2018 to address a blockage on his spinal cord that was preventing spinal fluid from traveling throughout his spine, Leo’s surgeon invited him to speak at the 40th Annual California Association of Neurosurgeon conference in 2019.

He was the first patient to speak at this conference. His topic was “Overcoming Adversity: Never Give Up.” Leo was invited to come back earlier this year as the keynote speaker at the 3rd Annual Spinal Cord Symposium at UCLA, David Geffen School of Medicine.

His presentation was “No Excuses, Living with a Spinal Cord Injury” to an audience of spinal cord neurosurgeons. “I’m like a chameleon, needing to adapt to the different colors of disabilities. Life is about choice, and I choose to be productive and happy.”

“In one second, you can lose the ability to either move your legs or everything below the shoulder. This disability is very devastating and is one of the most expensive to rehabilitate, so I was really excited to speak to over 150 specialists who work to help people with spinal injuries,” he said.

It’s been a busy year for Leo. A prolific writer, he has had three book chapters published, two in the fifth edition of “Medical, Psychosocial and Vocational Aspects on Disabilities.” He wrote a chapter on sexual health and disability and co-authored a chapter with Dr. Leo Orr, his oncology doctor, on cancer.

His other chapter is “Attitudes Towards Disabilities,” based on racism, stereotypes, and bias toward people with disabilities. To date, Leo has written 19 book chapters in rehabilitation literature.

He is passionate about his work with Oxnard College students. Leo is as inspired by the students as they are of him.

Michelle De Leon is a member of the marketing and communications team at the District Office. She is a Moorpark College alum and student at CSUN.

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