I am a strong advocate for following your dreams and never giving up. From the moment I came into this world I have been fighting for this motto. I was born in a small town in Russia with a lot of medical issues that were killing me. One of my more visible problems was Clubfoot and Tibial Hemimelia in my right leg. My parents were told to toss me out because I would never contribute to society. Instead, they put me in an orphanage in the hopes that I would make my way to the U.S.
A young American couple adopted me. They brought me to the U.S. and I was immediately hospitalized. I had my leg amputated and underwent countless other surgeries in order to restore my health. At age 4 I was finally learning how to walk!
Once I learned how to use my prosthesis I felt unstoppable. I was running around with all the other kids and loving it. I tried out for everything from plays, to dance teams, even ice skating. I played for my school’s soccer, softball, and basketball team by the 3rd grade. Once I learned about a new sport I wanted to try it. I had to wear bulky braces on my real ankle to support it, and around my diaphragm to protect my only kidney. I looked like a little football player. I felt very alone growing up not knowing any other amputees, or kids that were sick like me. I always seemed to be needing to get surgeries, and battling one health issue after another.
In high-school I decided to create Live without Limbs, an organization that would promote awareness for amputees. I gave talks around St. Louis, to local grade schools and high schools. Many people had not seen an amputee, or simply didn’t know what life was like as an amputee. I wasn’t trying to get others to feel sorry for me, but rather inform them. I told them that putting my leg on each day was like someone putting on a pair of glasses. I needed my leg to walk like they needed their glasses to see. I wanted to spread word about being different and not being bullied for it. A little girl came up to me after one of my talks and said that she too was adopted, and that the other kids often teased her about it. She said that after my talk it made her feel proud to be adopted, and that she no longer cared what the other kids said. Another boy happened to go home and tell his mom about how cool this talk was he had at school. He told her that a girl with a robot leg could play any sport he played. His mom happened to work with my mom and told her the next day at work. I felt like my words were really helping others.
By the time I was in college I was introduced to the RUSH Foot®. It was so lightweight and allowed me to become even more active than before. I was rock climbing, cycling long distances, and hiking as often as I could. I felt so comfortable and confident that I removed the cosmetic cover. When I was fitted with the RUSH Foot® I gained my life back. I love being a part of the #RUSHfamily. Everyone chooses to empower each other and lean on one another.
I still run Live without Limbs today, and have made it more available through social media. I’m able to reach so many more people and lead by example. I was told I would never contribute to society. I am a biomedical engineer that has 3D printed prosthetics for fellow patients, and helped them learn how to regain mobility. If you have been given a chance to change the world, take it.
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