It’s very easy to forget sometimes that often the ‘simple’ things in life that we take for granted, someone else is wishing for. And when you put these ‘simple’ things into perspective, you soon realise how precious and invaluable they are, such as the ability to walk.
I spoke to Senna Whiteman, who was diagnosed with a rare form of dwarfism called hypochondroplasia, after four years of tests by specialists in London. Hand-in-hand with this genetic disorder comes conditions such as bowlegs and knock knee. Senna experienced the latter of the two, which meant her knees tilted inwards whilst her legs were spaced apart.
Orthopaedic surgeons told Senna that if she didn’t have corrective surgery to straighten and lengthen her legs, she would be wheelchair bound by the age of twenty. In 2013, when Senna was just thirteen years old, she underwent her first of nine operations.
Everything a thirteen-year-old girl dreams of doing, got stripped away from Senna – from karate and cheerleading to dancing and performing arts. Hearing about Senna’s journey has really made me reflect upon how precious our physical health is, and why we should appreciate good health, much more.
The first of Senna’s surgeries involved placing metal pins in each femur bone and each knee, which meant that for a considerable amount of time, Senna was unable to bend her legs. She was forced to spend six months in a wheelchair, using a transfer board to get into bed and onto the toilet. She was completely unable to walk.
Looking back at my childhood, I remember times I’d be reluctant to go on long dog walks with the whole family. I’d much rather stay in bed, on my phone. However speaking to Senna has made me realise how easy it perhaps was for me to take my physical health for granted, without giving it a second thought. Until now.
Whilst I recognise the conflict between the intent and effect of disability depictions as “Inspiration Porn”, a term coined by the late disability activist Stella Young, I believe it is still important to shine a light on what we can learn from other people’s journeys.
(Emily Ladau wrote a very interesting article explaining “Inspiration Porn” in greater depth).
Senna’s ability to always remain positive throughout such a dark time, is something to be truly admired. Luck plays a huge part in life, and when you feel as though life is drawing you a bad hand, it is important to try and keep this positivity with you.
Our physical health is undoubtedly the biggest blessing and gift anyone can ask for in life, which is why we should always be grateful for it - “never underestimate the power of exercise,” Senna told me.
Last year, I started the Couch to 5k challenge, but I never got to finish it as I fell ill with appendicitis, and had to have surgery myself. I was unable to walk for a few days after, which I thought was bad enough – it’s extremely hard to imagine what it must be like to have this ability taken from you, for half a year.
After my operation, I fell out of love with fitness. I struggled to get back into the gym, and even when I did eventually go, it wasn’t anywhere near the amount I was going before the surgery.
However, listening to Senna’s story has encouraged me to show more gratitude towards my body’s capabilities, which is why I’m going to get back into running again this summer. As a step in the right direction, I am going to sign up for the Clifftop Challenge this year, which is a 5-mile run in aid of Breast Cancer Now.
I think a good lesson in life to stand by is ‘you don’t know what you have until it’s gone’. It’s important to always show gratitude for everything you have in your life, as there are always people worse off, with a lot less than you.
Senna said something very poignant to me, which I think will stick with me for a long time:
“When I was going through everything, I used to scream at the top of my lungs to the nurses “why me, what did I ever do to deserve this” and now I feel as though it’s the biggest blessing in my life because I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
Gratitude can undoubtedly shape and transform your life. Here are 7 crucial reasons why.