Stephanie Ariss was diagnosed with hip dysplasia when she was 18 years old, but as a young adult she had no idea how difficult the journey ahead of her was going to be.
The now 26-year-old’s focus was on what her future would look like, but instead Stephanie was faced with a devastating turn of events that saw her end up in a wheelchair with doctors saying she would likely never walk unaided again.
“I knew something was wrong from age 15 but I had been misdiagnosed with growing pains and flat feet,” Stephanie tells Yahoo Lifestyle.
“At the time of being told what was wrong with me, it didn’t affect me as much. I was young and unaware of how major the operations were and what the future would hold.
From 2012 to 2016 Stephanie, from Newstead, QLD, underwent three major pelvic operations. But a complication during the final one made things for from bad to worse.
“When I woke up the third time, I knew something was horribly wrong. I could wiggle my toes and slightly move my feet but my legs I just couldn’t lift,” Stephanie remembers.
“I felt frustrated, depressed and alone. I can remember laying in my bed thinking will I ever get married? Will I walk down the aisle and can I have kids?”
After a week in hospital nurses tried to help Stephanie stand but she was unable to do so without help. But she was discharged from the hospital and was told she had nerve damage in her lower spine that would heal over a few weeks. But it didn’t.
“This memory will stick with me forever. I was sitting in the office of a neurologist that I had seen three times over the course of six months,” she explains, adding she had undergone three nerve conduction tests.
“After the third test I was sat down in his office with my father and he told me based on the results of the tests and improvement over a six-month period, it’s highly unlikely you will walk unaided ever again.
“How I felt that day I couldn’t describe. My heart was heavy and I just couldn’t breath.”
Stephanie admits the next few months where she was unable to walk and faced living her life in a wheelchair saw her end up in a very dark place.
“At one point I fell out of my wheelchair trying to hang my laundry out and broke my knee. I won’t sugar coat it. It was an extremely dark time in my life and I couldn’t see things getting any better,” she tells us.
“I couldn’t understand why my mind wasn’t telling my body what it needed to do. I felt so embarrassed of who I was.”
She went so far as to having first dates on her balcony so she wouldn’t have to go out in public, and would spend a lot of time alone and crying.
“I got to a point where I decided that I was going to walk again or I wasn’t going to live. I couldn’t live my life in a wheelchair,” she admits.
But thanks to an “amazing physio” and sheer determination, Stephanie was able to completely defy her doctor’s prognosis to gradually learn how to walk again.
“It was extremely frustrating watching someone else bend my legs up and down and not being able to do such a simple motion that I had previously been able to do,” she remembers.
“After another few months I got to a point where I was able to use crutches. My right leg started working a lot faster than my left.”
After two years of work Stephanie is back on her feet, but things aren’t perfect as she reveals she has no feeling from her left hip down her leg to her knee. And she will need a hip replacement in the very near future.
“But that is such a small price to pay for being able to walk.”
Stephanie, who has been handpicked by MAFS alumn Jules Robinson as an ambassador for her shape wear line Figur, says the opportunity to represent the brand has helped her find confidence after such a huge journey.
“I won’t lie, I didn’t walk away from my recovery feeling confident and comfortable to be who I am. I had gained weight, I had lost friends, the guy I was seeing didn’t stick around to support me. I was covered in scars and I didn’t feel attractive,” she says.
“Being a part of Figur has changed my life. I’ve looked up to Jules since I watched her on MAFS and just loved her confidence, her beautiful nature and how she handled all the critics on her body. I’ve started the journey of loving myself and I continue to grow as a person more and more everyday.”
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