I don’t know if this young woman is a woman of religious faith, but I was very inspired when I happened to read her story yesterday. Here are the basics.
Elizabeth Wertenberger loves to dance, in fact it seems that may have been what helped to overcome a childhood disease that doctors said should have left her unable to walk.
Since she was an infant Elizabeth was plagued by chronic pain. At 3 she used to crawl into her parents bed in tears because her tiny legs hurt so much.
The doctors told her parents that it was just growing pains. This was their constant answer. “They made me feel like it was just something I had to learn to live with, so I did,” Elizabeth says.
In grade school the pain was so bad that she had to get up an hour early in order to take a hot bath just so she could get dressed.
The doctors told her she should cut back on her hours at the ballet studio, but Elizabeth refused. Dance was her first love. The only reason she entered her first beauty contest at age 9 was because it gave her a chance to dance onstage.
Besides, she found that dancing eased the symptoms, in spite of what the doctors told her.
At age 13 the pain was so bad that her mom began to seek more expert diagnosis. The tests showed that her joints were so swollen that she was lucky to be walking. The diagnosis was Juvenile Arthritis. “My doctor said it’s a good thing I didn’t give up walking, because (moving) is what saved my joints.
After some difficult treatments (some of which still have negative effects on her health) the disease went into remission when she was 14. She was overjoyed to find herself with much more energy, and found that she had a new love for life.
Her experience also made her try to do more for others who suffer from chronic pain.
She loved visiting the local nursing home and talking with the elderly. She understood the frustration they felt from constant stiffness and pain, yet she found that they had so much love and goodness to offer.
“I absolutely fell in love with the senior population. There’s so much to learn from them.”
Elizabeth began teaching a weekly dance class to women in the nursing home. She also got other students involved in her outreach to the elderly.
Elizabeth has used her work as a beauty queen contestant to promote volunteering and to give hope for children with chronic diseases. She will compete in the Miss America 2012 competition with this as her platform.
“Having (Juvenile Arthritis) made me appreciate all the little things in life,” says Elizabeth. “I want kids in similar situations to know that having a disease is what makes us unique, and it is truly a gift. You have to have faith in the silver lining.”
“At the time of my diagnosis, it felt like the worst possible situation. But looking back, it’s the best thing that ever happened to me. Without my chronic illness, I wouldn’t have found my passion for life.”
(Source: Arthritis Today, January/February 2012)