Though Kia Hascarl-Johnsen now lives in McBride, she grew up in Nakusp and comes back to visit every summer. She spent her childhood years in Brouse Loop from the age of 12 days until she was 18. In 1991 when she graduated from Nakusp Secondary School, Kia went north to pursue her secondary education in Prince George to study Early Childhood Education. Now twenty-some years later, Kia is hoping to further her vocational training and needs help to do so.
Things haven’t been easy for Kia. After battling crippling leg pain for most of her adult life, she opted for amputation of her left leg above the knee.
“I had an injury when I fell skiing at 11 years old- a torn meniscus and ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament), but then I kept reinjuring it. They replaced the tip of my femur with metal,”Hascarl-Johnsen explained in a phone interview from her home in McBride. She underwent 10 surgeries, including a partial replacement. Doctors considered more surgery to fuse it straight, but there was no guarantee that Kia would be pain-free, and would then be left with a leg that didn’t bend. She spent 4 years trying to find relief dealing with pain clinics and receiving conflicting medical opinions.
“I sat in a wheelchair, with a useless leg and in constant pain. When I was offered amputation, it seemed like the best chance of walking again. I could wear a prosthetic and potentially be much happier or stuck in the same spot. I had nothing to lose. Choosing to do that was the most selfish decision I have ever made.”
Referring to her two teenage boys, Preben (19) and Aksel Johnsen (17), Hascarl-Johnsen made the difficult decision to leave home in McBride for a minimum of six weeks in order to go to Prince George- two hours away from them to receive her amputation surgery and rehabilitation to walk again. Her recovery instead took a total of 73 days (ten and a half weeks.) Thanks to a day pass, she was at least able to get home to celebrate her oldest son’s graduation from high school. Now that Aksel, her second son is due to graduate this year, she is looking at life in a different way.
“For so long I sat and did nothing, other than taking care of my boys- making dinner and baking for them. I became addicted to the narcotics I was taking for my pain, and spent a lot of time sleeping. The biggest change in me since the amputation- I am happy.”
Kia was so inspired by her time post-surgery in rehabilitation, learning to walk and interacting with the others in the 20 bed ward also undergoing rehab that it has given her a new career path. She was the youngest there, and the only amputee.
“We did a lot together- played bocce, word games, and laughed a lot. I fell in love with the seniors that I interacted with. We went through a lot of similar things- being alone in there, being on a hospital schedule, missing our independence. The seniors, some of them knew me but didn’t recognize their own children. I learned to be more patient (with the elderly)” She revealed to the Arrow Lakes News.
The degree of support she received from the therapists and other patients changed her life. The first time she walked, it was into the dining room where the friends she had made there erupted into heartfelt applause. This has inspired her to go back to school to become a Recreational Therapist- helping patients with fine and large motor skills through play. She believes that her firsthand experience of being an amputee herself will give her the foundation upon which she can build skills to help others who are mobility-challenged, including other amputees. The program is two years long and she has to find a way to pay for it.
A longtime fan of the TV talk show Ellen, Kia created a video entry for a tuition contest being held by the show only to find out that she, at 41 had exceeded the maximum age limit. Discouraged but not dissuaded, this led her to another option; applying for the Dr Pepper Tuition Giveaway which is available to all ages (www.drpeppertuition.com/profile/574311120 to vote for Kia.) She still hopes to get the attention of Ellen DeGeneres via a nomination to be on the show, and has even gotten a response requesting her to submit her story. Though the show mostly reaches out to Americans in need, Kia asks
“I watch Ellen every day, follow along on all her apps: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and the Ellen app- she helps people every day. I have never seen her offer help to a Canadian, but maybe I’ll be the first.”
Hascarl-Johnsen welcomes the empty nest combined with being pain-free as a new lease on life.
“I feel like I am in the healthiest emotional place I have ever been in. With my leg the way it was I had started looking at the kids and thinking I had done the hard part, they’ve got this, they don’t need me. Pain every day was like a death sentence, I didn’t see the addiction happening until it was almost too late. Thank God something worked. If I still had that pain, I would not have hope for my future.”