LDSBC Student Serves Others Despite Disability

Contributed By By Sonja Carlson, Church News staff writer

  • 8 May 2014

Elder Dan Ito poses with his parents, Hidetoshi and Ikuko, after graduation April 11.   Photo by Laura Seitz, Deseret News.

Article Highlights

  • Elder Ito is the youngest of seven children and the fourth to have SMA.
  • He serves as one of the young Church-service missionaries answering emails in Japanese.

“Having [a] disability is a great purpose for me, so I can stay with God and I can keep this relationship with Him” —Elder Dan Ito  

Elder Dan Ito, a 22-year-old young Church-service missionary and LDS Business College student from Tokyo, Japan, has made it his life mission to serve others, despite what may seem like difficult circumstances. He has spinal muscular atrophy, a disease that, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, causes muscle weakness and damage that gets worse over time. There is no cure, and it eventually leads to death. He has been unable to move his hands and legs on his own since he was a child and has never been able to walk.

From challenges to blessings

Elder Ito is the youngest of seven children and the fourth to have SMA. All three of the other children with the disease have passed away, with his brother Tatsu’s death most recent in January 2013. It is obvious that Hidetoshi and Ikuko Ito, Elder Ito’s parents, who are members of the Salt Lake 14th Ward in the Salt Lake Stake, have not been without challenges while raising him and his siblings. However, they agree with him that they wouldn’t change a thing about their lives. “Despite the continual challenges, we continue to have huge blessings each time,” Brother Ito said. “Everything was set according to our needs.” Instead of emphasizing how hard it has been to have children with SMA, Brother Ito said blessings were more powerful than the hard times.

The trek to Utah

Tatsu’s dream was to study abroad, Elder Ito said. He was already studying at a university in Japan but had a strong desire to go to BYU. Elder Ito graduated from high school when he was 18, but not every university in Japan could accept those who are disabled, Elder Ito said. Their older brother, Hidenori Ito, who also had the disease, was unable to go to school so he worked from home doing editing for TV shows. By the time he passed away, he had saved up enough money for both Dan and Tatsu to go to school in Utah. They had no idea how much Hidenori had saved until the day he died.

Elder Dan Ito has spinal muscular atrophy. He is serving a mission with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and taking classes at LDS Business College. He graduates at the end of this year. Photo by Laura Seitz, Deseret News.

A scrapbook of the photos of Tatsu Ito and a book of teachings by Joseph Smith sit on the coffee table in the Ito home in Salt Lake City on Friday, March 28, 2014. Photo by Laura Seitz, Deseret News.

Elder Dan Ito heads home after classes at LDS Business College in Salt Lake City on Friday, March 28, 2014. Ito has spinal muscular atrophy. He is serving a mission with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and taking classes at the business school. He will graduate by the end of this year. Photo by Laura Seitz, Deseret News.

Elder Dan Ito’s friend and scribe Kristi Peterson takes notes for him during a business class. Photo by Sonja Carlson.

Elder Dan Ito leads the processional with his friend and scribe Kristi Peterson holding the flag for him at LDSBC’s commencement ceremony April 11. Photo by Matthew Reier.

The brothers and their mother then left Japan and the rest of the family behind, including Brother Ito—who was a branch president at the time and needed to stay in Japan to support them—and started going to the BYU English Language Center in 2010. They both needed to pass an English proficiency test before being able to apply for BYU. Tatsu passed but had barely missed the deadline to apply, Elder Ito said.

Looking for other options, they discovered LDSBC and started going there in 2011. They moved into a one-bedroom apartment with Sister Ito, who cared for them both around the clock. Brother Ito said he didn’t worry at all about his wife and children going to Utah because of the number of Church members there. After four years apart besides visiting, Brother Ito was able to join Sister Ito and Elder Ito in Utah last February.

A mother’s love

Elder Ito is grateful for both of his parents, he said, but is especially grateful for his mother. She has dedicated her life to her children. Along with caring for their basic needs such as helping them eat, bathing them, and taking care of them during the night, she even attended their classes with them at the beginning of their time at LDSBC to take their notes.

Being the mother of children with SMA was very difficult at first, Sister Ito said. However, she prayed when she didn’t know what to do, and Heavenly Father always answered her prayers. She considers her children to be her “iron rod.” “That totally changed my life,” she said. “I am a convert so I didn’t know about a lot of things about this Church or organization, … but I read a lot of scriptures or [went to] institute, everything, so I could realize gradually about heaven or the law of heaven. So I am very grateful for that because Heavenly Father wanted me to take care of them, and when I take care of them I realize a lot of things and this is my iron rod, and if I didn’t do that I would not [have come] here or have faith.”

A friendly face

Students at LDSBC are most likely to be greeted by an elder in a wheelchair with a big smile and kind hello if they happen to cross paths. “I think Dan is probably my most favorite person in the history of everyone,” said fellow LDSBC student Meghan Case of the Magna YSA Ward in the Taylorsville Utah YSA Stake, who helps him take notes in his music class. “He’s always got a smile on his face. I’ve never seen him upset. Anytime I’m depressed or anything, Dan is like an immediate up-boost. He makes me feel so happy.”

Debbie Hugie, coordinator of testing services at LDSBC and a member of the Madison YSA Ward in the Salt Lake Pioneer YSA Stake, described Elder Ito in two words: “infectiously happy.” “I don’t think I’ve ever seen him interact with someone that hasn’t walked away feeling better about everything,” she said.

Elder Ito needs scribes for most of his classes, as his ability to use his hands has decreased within the last few years. “For the most part, Dan always has a scribe in his classes with him, besides a couple of classes where he doesn’t need it,” Sister Hugie said. “He connects very well with them.” Helping Elder Ito has, in turn, been more of a blessing than a task for these students. “One thing that I love about working with Dan is that they bring you in here and they tell you that you’re going to be helping him, but when you get to know Dan and you get to see his attitude and the way that he is about life and the way that he handles things, he really ends up being an inspiration and a help to you, so it’s like it always goes both ways when you’re working with Dan,” said Gideon Carter of the City Creek 2nd Ward in the Salt Lake Pioneer YSA Stake, who is currently Elder Ito’s Gospel Doctrine teacher and past scribe and tutor. “You’re never just giving; he’s always giving back.”

Assisting Elder Ito has also proven to strengthen testimonies. Meghan said he has helped her gain a stronger testimony “because I can see the light of Christ just shining out of him, like just bursting—it’s overflowing. He’s a real example to me; it makes me want to try to be more like the Savior and better use the Atonement in my life. … I’ve noticed a lot more recognition of when the Savior is present in my life and of the things He’s done for me.”

Kristi Peterson of the 18th North Ward in the Salt Lake Ensign Stake and scribe for Elder Ito said she thinks he has taught her how important relationships here on earth are—and how to be a better friend. “It’s really helped me come closer to the gospel because it brings more meaning to relationships in the gospel and built my testimony that way,” she said of her association with Elder Ito.

Gideon was also friends with Tatsu and remembers when he passed away and how Elder Ito responded. “He knew that his brother was where his brother was supposed to be,” he said. “And seeing Dan and his family, you get to see the gospel and faith in action. It’s not something that they’re just talking about. … I’m able to see that faith is an important part of their life and they really, really believe in the things that they talk about and preach.”

Changing the world

“It sounds crazy, but I want to change the world,” Elder Ito said. Anyone who knows Elder Ito can attest that he is well on his way to achieving this goal. One of the means he uses to work toward changing the world is missionary service. He serves as a young Church-service missionary answering emails that get sent to him through the feedback page on LDS.org, and he is the only one available to answer emails in Japanese.

He was inspired to serve as a missionary through his brother Tatsu’s example. He said that when Tatsu passed away, he knew that being a missionary was exactly what he needed to do, and he would love to follow in Tatsu’s footsteps, as he was the “perfect example of patience.” Although he is able to serve for only about an hour each day during the semester, he always wears his missionary badge to be a good example of Christ to everyone he meets.

Classes at LDSBC have helped teach Elder Ito about serving others. “I have a strong desire to make more people happy, … and also as Latter-day Saints we have to be a good example to the world so they may come back to Jesus Christ,” he said. “So learning those things at the college, I came to the realization that with the person who I am, Heavenly Father requires me to inspire others and to benefit our people.”

His disability might limit him, but it has helped him realize his strengths and weaknesses and has given him the opportunity to have a strong relationship with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. He said Heavenly Father knows and has a “perfect purpose” for each one of us. “Having [a] disability is a great purpose for me, so I can stay with God and I can keep this relationship with Him,” Elder Ito said. Elder Ito will officially graduate with an associate’s degree in business entrepreneurship from LDSBC this summer but was able to wheel across the stage in last semester’s commencement on April 11. He was chosen to lead the processional. His hope is to continue his education at BYU and receive a bachelor’s degree in English so he can later tutor or teach others English.