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Kainoa Spenser Knows 'It's About the Climb'

1. For those who are unaware, please share your miraculous journey with them.

A few years ago I was a Sophomore in college at Seton Hall University in New Jersey. Toward the end of the school year in May, I was enjoying the usual end of year celebration with my fraternity and focusing on my finals and involvement in student government. However I became very ill and what went from flu like symptoms  led to not being able to hold a pen to write during a test, as well as fainting. My fraternity brothers were immensely helpful and took on the task of packing my room and getting me to the airport to travel home for summer. By the time I got to my family, I was in a wheelchair with dangerously low blood pressure and heart rate and had pneumonia. I don't have a memory of the events after that day. I've been told that all of my internal organs were failing and I was placed in a medically induced coma. I later learned my fate --I ingested strep in New Jersey, which got into my blood and lungs and sat in an internal pocket, later mutating into flesh eating bacteria. Inside my left knee was where the virus started. Necrotizing fasciitis set in on one of my legs, and I endured over 20 surgeries. Doctors gave me a less than 1 percent chance of survival.

2. It is incredible that you're alive. What happened as you began to heal and saw you did have a second chance?

I am a quadruple amputee, as amputation was the only option. I lost track of surroundings and happenings and had to put faith in my family and caregivers to give me strength. I was in hospitals for four months after intensive care. I needed to learn to eat and swallow and luckily still had my brain function. It's funny, my brother was in my hospital room and I was teasing him on my letter board so everyone was relieved that if I could mess with him, my brain was ok. I began outpatient therapy at St. Joe's in Phoenix which was amazing, as many facilities denied me due to my 'being too sick.' I went through the program rather quickly and am eternally grateful that they opened their doors to me.

3. You have done so much since those darker days, how did this horrific sickness turn into such an inspirational journey since? 

I was connected to Governor Doug Ducey. His wife is a board member with a non profit that we work closely with. He opened his home to me, my family and my therapy dog. We needed to build a home that had no stairs, so Governor Ducey let me live in his guest house (which was accessible) while we got our footing. It was then that I was put in contact with K2 Adventures Foundation. Their mission of 'We see protentional. Not limitations.' spoke to me. We looked to the future, together and that was huge for me. K2 leads extreme hikes, worldwide and with their unwavering support, I climbed Mount Kosciusko in Australia. I cannot wait to move onto my next adventure.

4. It seems metaphoric that this life can seem like an uphill climb for you sometimes. Share how you are focused on doing everything you are passionate about, despite your limitations.

I train at Elite U, in conjunction with K2, along with my entire family. I am a Junior at ASU, I am an intern at the Governor's Office and hope to help those in my position as much as possible. I train medical staff at Mayo Clinic through actor simulation, on how to deal with every type of patient, even those with unique situations like mine. My family and I have started Live Like Kainoa, and we host a golf tournament at Greyhawk each year to raise funds for recovery, prosthetics, etc. I speak about limb loss and help educate and motivate others. What I've learned and what I hope to teach others is that you have to deal with your biggest disability first – your mindset. I had to ask 'Who am I now?' The physicality came after that. 

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