I first came across Karen Crespo’s awesomeness on A Mighty Girl in September 2014. I contacted her to tell her how much I admired her, and we becomes Facebook friends. When Karen sent me this post through last month, I googled her to find some relevant links, and she happened to be on A Mighty Girl again – that same day! Karen made history in 2014 by becoming the first amputee missing four limbs to feature in New York Fashion Week. One giant leap, hey!?! Karen is a game changer.
I am so lucky to be able to share her story with you today. Meet Karen.
In December 2011, I contracted a devastating blood infection called bacterial meningitis or meningococcemia. Due to this debilitating illness, doctors gave me a less than 10% chance of surviving. In order to save my life, doctors had to amputate both my arms and legs. I ended up having a blood clot in my brain, 2 mild heart attacks, respiratory failure, and kidney failure so I was on dialysis. Besides my amputations, I lost part of my ear, hair, nose, some of my hearing, and I have numerous scars on my body. I am now living my life dependent on wearing prosthetic arm and legs to walk and to do functional tasks.
My life now is very difficult since a lot of times I have to depend on others for help. For the first 28 years of my life I was used to living my life a certain way and then all of sudden everything changed. It is definitely very challenging to adapt to living without my limbs. I feel as though I took a lot of things for granted before such as walking on the sand at the beach, touching or holding things in the palm of my hand, and so much more. Alot of people don’t realize how hard it is to walk with prosthetic legs. It’s like walking on stilts all day where even walking five steps for getting up from your seat can be very exhausting and challenging.
The biggest challenge I encounter being a quadrilateral amputee is relearning everything so I can be independent again. Relearning basic things such as bathing, eating, dressing myself, and other activities of daily living was and still is extremely challenging. What used to take me 5 minutes to do can now take me 30 minutes so certain tasks can be very frustrating. It is also very difficult to rely on others for help especially because I am an adult and I was very independent before all this. I used to live on my own, work a full time job, pay my own bills, and now everything has changed.
The biggest achievement I encountered since I contracted meningitis is walking the runway during New York Fashion Week. When I first came home after 5 months in the hospital I was embarrassed and I did not want to see anyone. I would have never thought I would be courageous enough to strut my stuff down the runway during fashion week. Once I stepped on the runway platform, it was like I had an epiphany and all of a sudden I realized why I was given a second chance in life. I feel as though my purpose in life is to inspire others and be a role model for people who have disabilities and even for people who don’t, but who are just going through rough times.
The overall biggest achievement I probably had throughout my whole lifetime is overcoming both the physical and mental challenges of losing all my limbs. Staying strong and being motivated to make myself better after I became an amputee was not an easy task. It is still a learning process and like many others, I have good days and bad days. Learning how to walk was not easy, learning how to drive again was not easy, but I still kept on pushing through. I knew I couldn’t just sit at home and feel sorry for myself.
I couldn’t of done all of this while staying positive if it wasn’t for my faith and my close family and friends. My mother actually played the biggest role during my illness and rehabilitation process. She quit her job to be my full time caregiver and sacrificed so much for me. My mother slept in an uncomfortable chair next to me every night during my 5 month stay in the hospital and the 7 month stay during physical rehab. Without them, none of this would have been possible. They motivated me to continue to stay strong for myself and taught me that it is okay to cry during times of frustration or sadness.
If someone who looks different or someone that is not happy with their appearance asked me for advice I would tell them to stay positive and humble while keeping their head up high because everyone is different. No two people are the same and that’s what makes us unique. What is the real meaning of “normal” anyway? If people are staring because a person looks different they are probably just curious because they have never seen anyone in that particular type of situation. I think the best bet to do is to say “hi” in a polite manner and ask them if they have any questions. A lot of times people will be taken back you asked them a question, you are willing to talk about your situation, or that you are so positive about it. If I can do it so can you.
I would tell my younger self to enjoy life, not work so hard, and to maintain a healthier lifestyle. Although, I did take care of myself and I did not smoke or do things to really jeopardize my overall health. But I feel as though I could have worked harder to maintain a better lifestyle and perhaps I would have never contracted meningitis. I was definitely a workaholic ever since I was old enough to work and I probably could have slowed down as I got older. Life can flash us by and I feel like the older I get, the faster the days in the year go by.
The biggest turning point in developing my self-confidence was definitely walking in New York Fashion Week. The motto of the fashion designer I modeled for Carrie Hammer, was “role models, not runway models.” It was therapeutic for me because after the show so many people who had issues with themselves contacted me and told me how I helped them realize their lives weren’t that bad. It made me re-evaluate my own life and realize I need to love myself.”