Jen’s story is so unbelievable that it seems like a Lifetime movie. In 2007, the 35-year-old beautiful newlywed, married six months, went into septic shock from a blood infection. She ended up at Medical City Dallas Hospital, where despite the experts’ best efforts, her body eventually began shutting down, one organ at a time. In order to save her life, doctors were forced to amputate both of her hands and both lower legs below the knee. Almost four months later, Jen walked out a quadruple amputee on a pair of prostheses– after just two weeks in rehab.
While she struggled to learn new ways to handle the little tasks of everyday life that others take for granted: attending exercise classes, applying makeup, closing and opening the doors in public places—the seed for an idea to help others was growing.
“I realized that no matter what happens to you in your life, you need to be able to learn how to deal with it,” she says. “I had always been a very active person, and I was determined to take back control of my life.” As she learned to work with her new physical limitations, she realized that others could benefit from the wisdom she had gained. “I wanted to remind other people that whatever their frustration or challenge is that they, too, can take ownership of their situation if they are willing to try new things,” she says.
For example, instead of giving up baking and cooking, which she had enjoyed in her previous life, Jen put her problem-solving abilities to creative use and came up with new ways to get the job done. (Watch her making brownies at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ujYZNlvxrEU).
It was a desire to empower others with the same can-do spirit that led her to create the P.L.A.Y.Foundation (Positive Living for Active Youth). P.L.A.Y. helps youth amputees live a positive, healthy, active life by providing grants of up to $2,500 to help them get back into sports, music, arts, and physical activities.
If a kid wants to learn to play ski golf, or ride horses, form an amputee basketball team, participate in the para-Olympics, or go to a camp, P.L.A.Y. can help their dream come true. “Whatever somebody’s passion was before they became disabled, we want them to enjoy it again. And if they’re interested in trying something new, we’ll support that, too,” she says.
To date, over 26 grants totaling more than $80,000 have been awarded, and fundraising ideas and events are always in development. P.L.A.Y. also works with local organizations like Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children, filling an important niche for children who need to be active after receiving prosthetics in order to improve their self-esteem, build muscle strength, and learn new motor skills.
In addition to growing P.L.A.Y., Jen continues to push her own capabilities, set goals, and press forward. She has begun working as a motivational speaker to inspire others to believe that turning adversity into opportunity is a choice that they can make. “You don’t have to accept the limitations that others try to impose on you. I’m curious by nature; I like to explore and challenge my own limits. It’s all about getting outside of the box of your comfort zone.”