It’s weird to say that many years ago, I was not expected to make it out of the hospital.
On July 27, 1984, I was born and diagnosed with a rare blood disorder called aplastic anemia, which does not allow my red cells to produce. Every three weeks, my parents took me to Texas Children’s Hospital to receive two transfusions. I call Texas Children’s my second home.
In 1996 I had a splenectomy. In tenth grade, I was still getting transfusions, taking medications, injections, and went through multiple surgeries.
In November 2001, I decided to stop taking all my medicines. I figured if God wanted me here, he would save me – if not, he would take me. I developed an infection that traveled to my bloodstream. From that point on, I told myself I would never do anything like that again.
In May 2004, I was admitted to the Texas Children’s bone marrow transplant unit. Over the next four days, I received chemotherapy. On May 20, I received the most precious thing that my dad could ever give me – his bone marrow.
The chemotherapy completely knocked out my immune system. In early June, the doctors thought it was safe enough for me to finally be discharged from the hospital. It felt so good being at home with my family, but I could not go out to the mall or to restaurants because I still had a weak immune system.
In 2005 I wanted to start college, so I asked my doctor – she said it was up to me. I visited a counselor at Houston Community College to talk about which classes I was going to take. As I was waiting, I started to shiver as if I was cold and I felt really tired. I called my dad to pick me up. He saw that I looked worn out, so he told me to take a nap. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and fell into a deep sleep. Little did I know, I would stay asleep for a month and a half.
I wanted to speak and get up but I couldn’t. The one thing I wanted to do more than anything was remember what happened – but I couldn’t. I asked my family to explain how everything unfolded. After hearing the horrible memories that everyone had, a part of me is relieved that I don’t remember.
As I understand it, I fell into a coma. The infection I had was so bad that my body started to shut down. The lack of blood to my limbs caused them to slowly decay. I went through the therapy for a few weeks, and I noticed that my legs and feet were not getting better. One day, my orthopedic doctor came in and told me there was nothing more they could do for my legs and hands and that they would have to amputate.
The operation lasted seven hours. I was left with my left hand completely intact, my left leg amputated at the ankle, my right leg taken just below the knee, and half of my fingers and my thumb on my right hand amputated. It took many painful skin graphs and reconstructive surgeries to get me to where I am today.
I was sent off to try to make some sort of life for myself – to “get back to normal.” Normal? I thought, “I’m not normal. How do I go back to the life I had before?”
I fell into a deep depression, but my dad said something to me that would change my outlook and snap me out of this funk. He has an artificial leg so he understands how I feel. He said “If God wanted to take you, he would have when he had the chance.” From that point on, I went out whenever I could. I was finally in a place where I was truly content and on the right track.
In 2007, I decided that I was ready to start finding out about getting prosthetics. My dad and I made an appointment at an orthotics and prosthetics clinic. I remember when they first put my legs on. The prosthetist told me not to stand up because it was going to take some practice before I could do it. I can remember telling my dad, “I think I can stand up.” He told me to go for it! I grabbed on to the balancing bars and pulled myself up. For the first time in two years, I was standing on my own two feet again. The prosthetist was amazed that I was standing so soon – he had never seen that before. It only took weeks, not months, for me to start walking; and once I started I did not stop.
A nurse at Texas Children’s talked to me about a camp for teens who were going through ordeals like my own. I started volunteering for The Periwinkle Foundation in 2008. My first volunteer work was Camp YOLO (You Only Live Once), and it has been the best experience in my life. Although I was a counselor at this camp and not a camper, it gave me back the confidence that I had lost.
When I was 24, I was referred to Transition Medicine Clinic at Baylor College of Medicine where I met Dr. Cynthia Peacock and her team. I felt a connection right away! I knew this was the place I was supposed to be.
Looking back on everything, I realize I am truly blessed and loved. I now know my purpose in life, and I have learned that every surgery, trip to the hospital, and hard hit I endured made me the person I am today. If it was not for these challenges, I would not have met all the incredible physical therapists, nurses and doctors who helped me through this journey; as well as the people who are in my life right now. I am currently in school and I love it.
If you take just one thing from my story, I want you to take this; never hide who you are or what you have been through. Be proud of what you have endured.
My brother Steven tattooed a tribute to me on his arm. It is now my way of seeing myself and others. The tattoo says, “Our Scars Make Us Beautiful.”
-By Rosie Salas