Defying beauty standards, Kassie Whisman-Osborne, 31, of New Boston, shows her daughters that spina bifida can be beautiful.
Whisman-Osborne explained that spina bifida is a birth defect in which a baby is born with a hole in his/her spine. The Spina Bifida Association explains that the defect occurs when the spinal column does not close in the womb. The condition causes issues with mobility as well as bowl and bladder complications.
Whisman-Osborne’s parents had no indication that she would be born with spina bifida. Though testing for can be done while in the womb, Whisman-Osborne explained that she had skin covering the hole in her spine, so the defect did not show up during prenatal tests. That piece of skin gave her an advantage over most people with spina bifida, preventing her from leaking spinal fluid. Unlike many people suffering with the condition, Whisman-Osborne explained that she has always been able to walk.
At just 6-weeks-old, Whisman-Osborne had her first surgery to close the hole in her spine. Throughout her childhood, she would have repeated surgeries and medical stays. Because of her first surgery, scar tissue would build up on her spine and need to be surgically removed every couple years.
Whisman-Osborne continued by explaining that, though she could walk, her right foot was smaller than her other.
“I wear a 7 ½ on my normal foot,” Whisman-Osborne stated. “My other foot was a 4 1/2-5, and it turned in. It made me limp really bad. So, because it dragged and didn’t get good blood flow, it got diabetic sores.”
In addition to surgeries to remove scar tissue from her spine, as a child, Whisman-Osborne also had numerous surgeries to try to strengthen those parts of her body most affected by spina bifida.
“They (doctors at Children’s Hospital in Columbus) would take tendons from my good foot and put them in my bad foot to help strengthen my walking,” Whisman-Osborne commented before adding, “They took a piece of my bowel to make a stronger, bigger bladder.”
As a child, she averaged two surgeries a year, many of which were during the summer so she would not miss more school. With summers spent recovering from surgeries, Whisman-Osborne could not participate in sports or summer activities like her sister or be out playing in the park like her neighborhood friends.
“Children’s Hospital was my home away from home,” Whisman-Osborne said. “That was my normal. That was the only normal I knew.”
Though she knew she was different than other kids, Whisman-Osborne said she never really felt like she fit in with healthy or sick kids. There was a spina bifida summer camp each year, and Whisman-Osborne explained that she always wanted to attend. However, her family always told her that she did not belong with other children with the defect because she could walk. Still, when she was home, she felt like she was always trying to keep up with the normal kids. She tried so hard to be like healthy kids that she even learned to ride a bike.
“As soon as I would learn to do something, I would be back in the hospital to have another surgery,” Whisman-Osborne explained.
As a result, she never felt like she could keep up with the kids at home. She was always falling behind.
Whisman-Osborne added that everyone always treated her like the she was incapable of doing much.
“I never had to do anything,” she stated while explaining that people around her always assumed she couldn’t do things.
Even when she ran for Little League Queen, she was excused from walking in the parade without being given the chance to try.
“I never had to try anything, and when I did have to try, I would throw a fit. I was the baby, and they would call be the sick one,” Whisman-Osborne stated.
It was only she was at Children’s that people would tell her that she was able to do things for herself.
As a teenager, when most females already struggle with confidence, Whisman-Osborne had an even greater concern. When she was approximately 14, she developed a large pressure sore on her weak foot. The sore continued for five years. Adding to the hospital visits, Whisman-Osborne would have to have the sore cauterized every two weeks. Still, the sore continued to get worse and cause other problems. At 19-years-old, Whisman-Osborne had her first amputation. She lost her foot and half her ankle.
Though her doctor and mother cried because she would be losing her foot, Whisman-Osborne said she was relieved.
“I had that big sore for so many years. It was terrible,” she stated. “I had to tell my doctor and mother it was okay. It was time.”
Though there was fear, Whisman-Osborne says the fear was very personal. She was afraid of how she would feel about her appearance.
“People had always stared at me, so I wasn’t worried so much about what other people would think,” she commented.
Within two days of the surgery, Whisman-Osborne was walking on a prosthetic. She went home walking on it, and said that adjusting was rather simple. It helped that she had a friend to keep her in good spirits.
After having her amputation, Whisman-Osborne was visited by friend, Isaac Osborne, who hung out just to help her pass the time. He didn’t judge her despite the fact that she has just lost her foot. Rather, his only concern was for her well-being. Though he had to leave town for work, the two continued to talk on the phone. By the time he returned, the friendship had become a romance.
“I never had anyone who thought I was anything other than a sick kid,” Whisman-Osborne said.
Osborne had a confidence in her that gave her confidence in herself and encouraged her to try new things. He even took her canoeing, despite concern from her family. Whisman-Osborne explained that his support gave her the strength to try new things without being afraid.
“I’m afraid of different things than other people are afraid of,” she added. “I’m afraid of going into surgery, and it being the one I don’t wake up from.”
It was not long before Whisman-Osborne was marrying this guy who always seemed to see her as even more than she saw herself. Unfortunately, it also was not long until she was having another amputation.
Because the first amputation was only her foot, Whisman-Osborne was able to walk without her prosthetic. Doing so, however, led to another pressure sore. One year after her first amputation, Whisman-Osborne lost her leg from below the knee.
“It was a lot harder the second time,” she explained.
She had more pain than she did following the first procedure. She could not walk on her prosthetic immediately because she had to wait for it to be made and wait for her stitches to be taken out. Still, Osborne was always by her side, always saw her as beautiful and never saw her as a sick girl. Whisman-Osborne was always strong and capable in her husband’s eyes.
Overtime, Whisman-Osborne said she started to feel strong and beautiful in her own eyes as well. She says that she faked confidence when she was younger but always cared about how people looked at her. Now, she refuses to be that sick kid anymore.
“Only in the past year have I started to feel beautiful as a woman,” Whisman-Osborne stated. “I’ve always been cute – the cute, little, one-legged girl. Only recently, though, have I started to feel comfortable with myself.”
Whisman-Osborne explained that a year ago and 11 years after her first amputation, she joined a performance group and that has really helped her grow. She had never thought of performing before.
“I always said I had stage fright, but I had never even been on a stage,” she joked.
After attending a performance, she wanted to be a part of the show. Soon, she was joining the cast and dancing on stage.
“It’s good to have people look at you for a reason other than to stare at your one leg or to check you because of a procedure,” Whisman-Osborne commented.
It no longer even bothers her when people stare. She explained that one day she was swimming in a public pool with her husband and noticed some guys smiling and flirting from across the pool.
“I’m real cute from the waste up, but I got out of the pool and could see them freaking out with the change in their expressions. So, I started putting my fake leg on seductively,” she laughed. “People think because I have scars, I should hide them. I like to show them off. I earned them.”
With her husband’s never faltering confidence in her, Whisman-Osborne now feels like she can be anyone and do anything, an important realization she has made as a mother. Whisman-Osborne has three children – an eight-year-old daughter, a six-year-old daughter and a two-year-old son.
“I don’t want them to ever be down on themselves because of appearance or anything,” she stressed. “They have their limbs, but I want them to also have strong females figures in their life, including me.”
No longer the sick kid, Whisman-Osborne is excited to continue acting and performing and showing her children than nothing will hold her back and nothing should have hold them back either.
Reach Nikki Blankenship at 740-353-3101 ext. 1930.