SEATTLE — Her voice is high. Her smile, sweet. Her demeanor, gracious. But her spine is steel. Actually, titanium.
Stephanie Jarstad is a young woman who holds her head high and speaks straight, especially about her curved spine. "I don't really feel self-conscious about my scars. They're who I am."
She also admits, her unique back has brought unique experiences. Many of them she'd never wish on others.
Recently she went swimming, and someone commented, "That's a weird scar. It doesn't even look human." But it's essential to her humanity.
Stephanie was 13 years old when she was diagnosed with scoliosis. Her spine was in an "S" shape -- "for Stephanie!" she jokes.
She wore a brace, hoping it would straighten the curvature. Kids at school would knock on the plastic and run. Others called her "Scoli."
She says those experiences gave her compassion and understanding as an adult. But she was shown too little of it when she was young. She remembered that isolation recently when she discovered an online group called "Curvy Girls Scoliosis." There was no such thing when she was a kid. No one she knew had the same challenges.
Stephanie went to speak to the room full of Seattle teenagers. She found they were able to trade advice on how they deal with bullies and alter clothes to accommodate their rebellious backs. And Stephanie told them it would all be OK.
Bent but not broken.
Her scoliosis eventually compressed her lungs and threatened to cause cardiac problems. So, surgery: two titanium rods and 20 screws. There was pain, there was fear, but there was also recovery.
She took these pictures to send "a message of love and acceptance. Physical deformity, disability, or illness is nothing to be ashamed of. It's not just for adolescent girls with scoliosis. It's for people with visible scars and invisible scars."
Post-surgery, she's two inches taller. She's grown. You can see it in her scars.
Stephanie may look familiar. Stephanie Jarstad Photography did the project "To Grow Old with You," that I featured in another #SeattleAntifreeze. Incredible talent and heart.
After the Aurora Bridge crash, people in our area jumped into action, donating hotel rooms, blood, prayers, challenging Seattleites' reputation for being chilly (the "Seattle Freeze"). It inspired me to pass along stories of when we see people in the community coming together, or what I call #SeattleAntifreeze. If you know a story that should be told, let me know.
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