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Hannah J Schuerman's Story

posted Mar 10, 2016, 9:41 AM by Hillah Shriners   [ updated Mar 10, 2016, 10:05 AM ]

Hannah J Schuerman’s Story

Hannah made the following presentation at the recent 2016 PNSA Winter Meeting.  Our Divan members were so impressed that we wanted to share it with all the nobles and Ladies of Hillah Shriners.

It is an honor for me to have this opportunity to share my personal story, and express my gratitude to you Shriners, because without you all, my story would have been quite a different one. My name is Hannah, and some of you may know me better as the former Miss Spokane 2013.

I’ll start by giving you a brief summary of what I did during my “reign” as Miss Spokane, because that time gave me so many opportunities to network, pursue, and represent my passion for the physically disabled community. Without the opportunities I received in the past 3 years, I would not be who I am, or where I am, today. As Miss Spokane, I represented my chosen platform, “Honoring Their Sacrifice: Recognizing and Supporting our Disabled Veterans.” Because of the very nature of my platform, as well as my own amputee experience, I was able to work with various organizations including Wounded Warriors Project, Children’s Miracle Network, 

Spokane Shriners Hospital, Fairchild Air Force Base, and

the Capitol. Since my experience in the Miss America Organization, I have been an ongoing advocate for the physically­ disabled community. I call myself an advocate because, whether I like it or not, I will constantly be faced with questions and reactions that any noticeably ­disabled person will have to face.

 Those questions, those reactions, are just an assumed part of my life­­ I am so used to them! I think it would actually catch me off guard if they weren’t to occur! Thankfully, I love answering questions! I love to tell people about my obvious difference and why it is there! I want people to ask about my leg, because it helps broaden the scope of others’ minds; help them to look past the differences that every human being has, physical or not. I want them to see that I am indeed content with how I was made and unwilling to let a stereotype get me down. So you see, I am an ongoing advocate for the physically handicapped, because I want to help educate the minds of others on a topic they may not know much about. It is also a lot easier being passionate for something when you yourself have first­hand experience.

 That is why I am going to take you back 19 years, and tell you about my initial experience as an amputee. I was born

with a congenital birth defect which, at that time, was not yet well­ known in the medical world. My birth defect is called fibular hemimelia, which includes the total absence of my left fibula, underdeveloped bone structure, joints, and tissue, leaving my left leg thin, bent, short, and useless. Unfortunately, my defective growth was unnoticed until I was born­­ It did not appear in the ultrasounds, and there was nothing else abnormal that caused anyone to question my growth. So only after I was born was everyone simultaneously surprised when they first laid eyes on my thin little leg, which was missing a toe and had no ankle joint attached to my bent shin. The doctors and my family sought immediate medical attention after my discovered deformity, because no one knew what it was. We were stationed in Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, at the time, so because of the lack of knowledge or resources to help with my deformity, I was evacuated south through seven states. By the time I was one week old, I was in Texas awaiting my first diagnosis. Only one doctor had dealt with this problem once before, and after evaluating the options and wrestling through the possibilities for my physical future,
It was finally decided that my leg would be amputated. I was one year old when it happened. ­ This amputation, out of the seven surgeries that I have received, was the most important one in my physical future. To this day, I am so grateful for the decision made to amputate my leg. Even though what was left of my foot was removed, I was able to wear quality prosthetics from the time I could walk, through the rest of my life. I just want to take a moment to appreciate the age we live in: one of increasing, improving technology that helps protect us from discomfort, inefficiency, or unnecessary pain. I consider myself lucky to have suffered so little in my childhood.

 Even though there were unforeseen challenges I would face later in my life, I was overall content and undaunted by my physical state from the beginning. My parents, and especially my father, did an exceptional job of including me in tasks and activities that others might question me doing because of my leg. For example, my family loves to backpack. We used to go on multiple ­day backpacking trips in Idaho all the time. My dad would distribute the weight of our packs based on our body weight, and I was treated with no exception to my other three sisters.



I loved that!  Even though it was not a direct encouragement, I am forever thankful for my father’s general assumption that I can do most of what anyone else can do. He and my mother both helped mold my positive mindset because they did not directly address my physical circumstances. Very seldom was my leg a contributing factor when I failed in some sport or activity. My parents did not doubt my ability, and the confidence that I saw they had in me, became my own. I am thankful for that confidence I had early on, because the only way to deal with any disability is to have confidence. As much of a cliché as that may sound, it is true.  All physically ­disabled people battle the status quo of the world and what is considered “normal” in the eyes of others. Unless they are comfortable in their own skin, and unbowed by others’ opinions of their physical appearance, physically ­disabled people will experience discouragement and doubt. I know, because I also experienced that discouraging side of disability, which you will soon learn about. That is why I am so thankful for Shriner’s Hospital and the care it gives to these children. Shriners very own mission statement emphasizes this high­quality care, as well as the education and research sought to better serve these children in the future. Because of the confidence and care I had been given early on, I did most anything anyone else could do without incident. Once I was old enough to do sports, I did sports. To be specific, I ran track, did high jump, swim team, gymnastics, volleyball, even ballet. And for fun, I like to rock climb and snowboard. I have always been active from the time I could walk, so to have experienced no major accident or injury in my earlier life, was a complete blessing. When I became a senior in high school, I won the title of Miss Spokane and got the opportunity to work with so many different organizations, including Shriners, on a topic that means so much to me. I got to do so much too! For example, I succeeded in the Navy SEAL fitness challenge at Eastern Washington University. That, was so much fun, and I would do that again in a heartbeat. I also participated on the field at the annual Vandals vs. Cougar football game that Spokane Shriners Hospital sponsors every year. The many opportunities that I had then, as well as the one I have right now, are not taken for granted in my heart. Neither do I take for granted my relatively seamless upbringing and the experiences I’ve had when it came to my disability. I am sure you have heard people say, however, that “everything changes in college”. That was certainly true for me. Right after I graduated high school, I went to WSU for my first year of college where I started pursuing nursing school. And I was doing great! For a time. I loved my classes, got involved in activities, and made new friends, including a cute guy who I had met through my other friends. We met at a party, and...I just thought… he was really nice! I was not interested in any relationship at the time, however, so when he eventually expressed a clear interest in me, I turned him down. But our
friendship was maintained even after that painful conversation, and later on in my freshman year, in October, 2013, he invited me to go with him to the Naval ROTC annual Ball. I thought…. pretty dresses, dancing ...that sounded like fun! So I went with him.

 Little did I know that that night would change course of my life in more ways than I could have ever imagined. That night, as I was dancing, I fell and broke my left knee on my residual limb, additionally tearing a tendon and dislocating the bone. For the next 7 months at Washington State University, I was on crutches and in a complete state of humility. For essentially the first time in my life, I was truly challenged by my disability. Here I was, only two years ago, crutching around campus with only one leg, receiving stares, and feeling more vulnerable than I ever was before. However, while I experienced a whole new level of “disability”, I realized what ABILITY I had and took for granted for all those years. I was humbled. All those activities I did, all the treatment I received from Shriners that kept me able to do what I could do... all of it came back to me with a greater appreciation than I ever had before. To this day, the wound from that night at the Navy Ball is not completely healed. I have so far received 2 surgeries since that night in 2013, where Shriners helped correct my leg’s entire alignment and strengthen my ­weak knee. Shriners helped me improve so much, but unfortunately, I still have a limp because I suffer patellar grind, frozen joint, and my knee is, overall, weaker than it was before. Since the accident, my physical activity has, been significantly limited compared to what it used to be. It is often hard not to be discouraged when I compare my current physical state to what it was before that horrible accident in 2013. But, I should not compare. I am who I am now, and I am going to make the most of it. I thought that I had lost so much in the last 2 years of my life, including the confidence that I had, in the full extent of my ability. I dwelt on my loss, and was discouraged by my new physical state. I thought I had lost more than I could ever gain back. But only a few months later did I realize that I was so wrong. Unless I suffered through those challenges, or was humbled by those hardships, I would not have learned what I have learned about myself, or realized that I have gained even more through that time. My eyes were opened to the reality of the blessings that I had been given all along. One of those blessings that I did not see right away was that cute guy I danced with that night at the Navy Ball. He cared for me and helped me while I was on crutches for so long, and because of that, I was given the chance to see his selflessness, his true character, and eventually, we fell in love.

I married him, just about 8 months ago. He is a Surface Warfare Officer in the Navy who is currently deployed on a destroyer in the Persian Gulf.   He will be there for at least another seven months. And I couldn’t be more proud of him. 

In conclusion, I just wanted to express how thankful I am to all of you, for how you have so greatly impacted my life. Anyone with a physical situation like mine has to combat many challenges and make decisions that others may not understand. But you all do. You as Shriners have accepted the huge responsibility of improving each Shriners child’s physical future. That is one of the most honorable causes I can ever imagine. I implore you to remember this if you are ever struggling with doubt. Shriners Hospitals for Children is not only saving young lives, but also selflessly improving them, and for that, I on behalf of myself and the physically disabled children, am truly thankful!