EXCERPT: 'Strong at the Broken Places'

Living with a disability can seem unimaginable for those of us who are fortunate enough to be healthy, yet 90 million Americans battle chronic illness every day.

Emmy-winning journalist Richard Cohen's new book, "Strong at the Broken Places," examines the lives of five families dealing with chronic illness.

The author, who is battling multiple sclerosis, recently appeared on "GMA NOW" to discuss his book.

Below, please read an excerpt of each of the five triumphant stories Cohen tells in "Strong at the Broken Places."

Sarah Levin: Seeking Normalcy



Sara Levin and I shook hands at the airport, meeting for the first time. We stood outside the terminal, taking stock of each other as we made small talk. Then the two of us headed out, picking up coffees and driving into Cleveland. I watched intently, focusing on Sarah behind the wheel as she tooled along the highway into the city.

We were going across town to her office in Shaker Heights, passing close to some of Cleveland's tougher areas. We left the highway so that Sarah could show me around. There was a reason for the quick tour. This young woman wanted me to see who she is and where she spends much of her days.

Sarah is a social worker who works with kids from the city's poorest neighborhoods. Our trip now was taking us through some dicey districts. "As long as we are here," she said, "I need to pick something up. It will save me a trip later."

We pulled into a driveway in front of a house that had seen better days. Sarah needed to get a document from a client. I waited in the front seat, watching this small woman approach the silent house. The old wooden structure seemed foreboding, the neighborhood rough.

When no one answered the door, Sarah walked back past the car, holding up one finger, signaling, "Be back in one minute." She seemed unbothered by where she stood, though this did not feel like a welcoming place. She disappeared around back and vanished. She has guts, I thought. She reappeared, papers in hand.

Sarah counsels troubled kids and their families at an experimental school that draws children from around the city. I had spent enough time in Cleveland during my years in the news business to remember journalists mocking the place as The Mistake on the Lake. A brief urban resurgence had given way to the feel of a Rust Belt town that could not keep up with a new era.

Sarah seemed to be smaller than life, a pretty version of Stuart Little's kid sister, diminutive and always on the go. The two of us walked and talked, jumping or, in my case, stumbling back into the car to drive through more projects in areas Stuart would never choose to visit. Sarah seemed so small up against this urban wasteland with its big problems.

She described going into broken homes and dealing with hostile people, many of whom live with crack vials and cracked dreams. Troubled kids from that world can end up at Sarah's school an in her life. "My friends ask, 'Doesn't it scare you to go into these projects and take chances to do your work?'" Sarah carried pepper spray when she remembers to, in case she is attacked. "Nobody bothers me," she said. "I have been nervous at times but never really fearful for my life."

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