HACKENSACK, N.J. — At five years old, Hackensack's Andre Williams was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy and given 12 years to live.
At 40 years old, the Paterson native lives to tell his story.
"You have to love yourself first and then the rest will follow," he said. "No matter what."
While his friends were getting ready for high school, Williams was coming out of a coma and learning to adjust to life confined to a wheelchair with a trachea.
He's been in and out of the hospital dozens of times, but he never gave up.
He says he never will.
"I learned to live with what I have," said Williams, a father of five. "This is my life."
Once he was able to accept life for what it was, he began making the most of it.
Going outside more. Talking to people.
Putting himself out there.
That's how he met his best friend, Coleena Brown.
"He's a real friend," Coleena said, Williams sitting next to her while she did homework at a table in Dunkin Donuts on Passaic Street. "If you need help, he's there. He'll give and he doesn't look for anything in return."
Williams recently penned a memoir, "The Andre Williams Story," which he hopes will inspire other people to appreciate what they have and see life from a different perspective.
He says his own willpower is his greatest motivation: "I want so much out of life."