My name is Renee Stirling DeHaan I am 44 years old. I was born without a foot on my right leg. I have a knee, leg and ankle but no foot. Because I have an ankle I have to have a prosthesis leg with a simes foot instead of one of the cool titanium legs. I step into my leg and it comes to my knee. I cannot wear high heels because there is only an inch of room to work with, so all my shoes are flats. On my left foot I was born with a club foot. On my hands I was born with two digits on each hand. My disabilities have presented a special challenge I have had to overcome all my life. Growing up I was called crab hands, lobster hands, and peg leg. Luckily I had parents and friends support me and help me to take my disabilities and use them to help teach others about those with differences. I use to wonder why me? why did I have to have these disabilities? As I have grown I have realized I was allowed to have these disabilities so I can help others to overcome handicaps.
I am in the business of education. I started out as a severe special education teacher in Washington Utah. I later moved to Salt Lake and taught at Union Middle School. These years are some of my most memorable years in education. I had the opportunity every day to socialize with kids who were learning to deal with their disabilities and helping them to grow and overcome the obstacles they had. I later went into Administration. I was the assistant principal at Granite Park Junior High for 7 years. I worked a lot with the special education units. I currently am an assistant principal at Calvin Smith Elementary and Elk Run Elementary. I love working in education and working with great kids and teachers! I am married and have 4 kids. Our family loves to travel and play games together.
Miggy: Hi Renee! Thanks so much for being willing to participate in today's spotlight. So we are no stranger to limb differences around here, but one thing I know is that not all limb differences are created equally. Can you tell us about your specific differences and how they affect your day-to-day life? For example can you walk, do you use prosthetics, etc?
Renee: I have a prosthesis on my right leg. My prosthesis is from below the knee down. My prosthesis is made of plastic and has a simes foot on it. For the most part I have been able to do whatever I set my mind to. However, reality hits and I have had many broken legs and feet because I have pushed things too far. For example I waterski, snow ski, rock climb, repel, jog, etc. I do get sores, infections, and have to remove my leg to let my natural leg heal. I can end up on crutches or in an electrical wheelchair for 1 month at a time. This is worth it to me to live an active life. For a long time I had a hard time going out in public in shorts. It wasn’t until I was married that I started this venture. I guess I was too self-conscience. I cannot wear stretch jeans because I can’t get them off of my leg. My kids have had to pull me down the hallway trying to get my jeans off my leg. My kids and I have leg races to see how long it takes them to pull off my leg. If I stand for long periods of time, my leg will hurt and put pressure on my back. When I go to Disneyland I get a wheelchair because of the long lines.
Miggy: Renee, lets go back to when you were a kid. At what age did you realize you were different from other kids? How did you navigate these differences socially as a child and how did your family help you? Also how were your differences handled within your family?
Renee: I started noticing I was different when I started grade school. I noticed I could take my leg off and others could not. I had friends from my neighborhood who supported me in grade school. I navigate the storms by telling my parents if kids got to mean. Before each school year started, my parents and I would go to the school and meet with my teacher and the principal. Those meetings helped resolve a lot of concern, worry and potential conflicts.
Miggy: Were you ever bullied as a child because of your disability? If so, how did you handle this and how did your parents handle this? Any advice for us special needs parents for helping our children through this tough hurdle?
Renee: Yes, I was disrespected by students. I was called a myriad of names and was not allowed to play in games with other kids because kids would not let me. I spent many recesses crying and many days I did not want to go to school. My parents were very good liaisons for me. They were not judging or mean to the parents or kids who were mean to me. They looked at my disabilities as an opportunity to teach others about disabilities. I remember my mom calling parents whose kids disrespected me, and inviting the kid to come to our house. My mom and I would sit down with them and their parent(s) and talk about my disabilities. If the disrespecting got too bad, teachers, or the principal helped out. However, as I mentioned the kids from my neighborhood helped a lot in tough situations.
Miggy: Now for a lighter question, I’m a big believer in seeing the humor in life and learning to laugh, so have you ever had any funny conversations/moments due to your disability? For some reason it seems like people with limb differences always have the best stories. :)
Renee: Yes, I am a practical joker and have had many moments of ‘shocking’ people. I was in San Francisco as a little girl walking with my Grandparents and parents. My mom noticed people were staring at me and turning their heads as they walked by. When my mom looked down, she saw I had flipped my foot backwards. Another time I was skiing and the weight of the ski’s pulled my leg off and down to the ski slope. When I looked down from the ski lift, I saw my leg skiing down the slope with out me!
Miggy: How can people best approach or respond to you, and in your opinion, other adults with disabilities? Do you find that people underestimate you? Are there things people do to try and be nice but that you'd rather not have them do?
Renee: I am a very upfront person and I like when people, especially kids just ask me. If I see a kid pointing at my leg in a store and the parent is trying to tell them to not look or be rude. I walk up to that child and ask if they would like to ask me a question about my leg. I re-assure parents it’s ok and it’s a great teaching moment for all. People in public do try to be nice and do things for me. I let them. I feel it makes them feel good. I use to push them away but I noticed that did not teach them about persons with disabilities and was creating negatives impressions. Now I smile and say thank you. I know my own strength and abilities, someone helping me isn’t going to make me feel less than who I am.
Miggy: I know from firsthand experience what a special role siblings can play in your special needs journey. Do you have any siblings and can you tell us how they shaped you as a child?
Renee: I have two younger sisters. I am the oldest. I think I shaped them by helping them not be afraid of differences.
Miggy: If there was just one message you could tell the world about disabilities what would that be?
Renee: Being different is cool!
Being different IS cool. Thank you so much Renee. OK first, your funny stories had me laughing so hard. I love the visual image of your leg going down the mountain on a ski all by itself! I can only image what other people were thinking. I also appreciate your honesty in regards to bullying. Thinking about it makes my stomach drop. BUT I'm so glad to hear that your parents and the kids in your neighborhood were loving, supportive and helpful in coming to your aid. I also love that your parents were not judgmental or mean to the kids (and their parents) who were bullying you, but instead called them and would have them over to your house to talk things through. I really think understanding and kindness, even when it's not deserved, is everything. And finally, I love that you live and embrace such an active lifestyle. That photo of you repelling! That's amazing. Thanks again Renee for sharing your journey with us today.
As always friends, if you or someone you know would like to participate in today's special needs spotlight email me or have them email me at thislittlemiggy at gmail dot com.