No limits, just hurdles for teen without limbs

Dancing girl

No limits, just hurdles for teen without limbs

Kiera Brinkley performs at her school in Portland, Oregon. AP

Every once in awhile, someone will ask the 16-year-old about what happened to her legs and arms. She’ll explain: doctors had to amputate them or a bacterial infection that raged in her blood would have killed her. She was two at the time.

Sometimes, she’ll get a rude stare or a harsh question and her normally sunny mood shifts. She doesn’t let it get her down. She roams the halls of a Portland high school in a wheelchair, chatting with friends or taking in a hug or two. At home, she cares for her two sisters and a little brother, and makes them dinner.

Through it all, Kiera dances, a lot, in the living room with her mother as her audience, in a practice studio at New York’s renowned Juilliard School and on stage with her high school classmates wildly cheering.

When she sways, she’s no longer the girl with missing limbs. Watching her, it makes you wonder how a little girl who lost her arms and legs at an age when most children are still getting used to their bodies grew into a young woman — and dancer — who believes there are no limits, just hurdles. Kiera was a bubbly, eager to help toddler. She made everyone smile, says her 36-year-old mother, Elesha Boyd.

One day, Kiera fell severely ill. Doctors told Boyd Kiera had an infection of the blood. As the bacteria spread and tissues died, Kiera slipped into a coma. Surgeons amputated all but a few inches of her legs, her left arm at the elbow and her right arm above the wrist.
Much of that time was a haze. When the day came to leave the hospital, Boyd knew that she could not let disability limit Kiera’s future. “She doesn’t have any boundaries,” says Boyd, who also danced and played flute.

Before Kiera began kindergarten, Boyd asked staff from Portland Shriners Hospital for Children — where Kiera was treated — to visit the school and show a video about the kids who are treated at the hospital. Boyd hoped that Kiera’s soon-to-be classmates wouldn’t treat her differently than any other kid. They did — she was greeted like a rock star. It soon became clear that the daughter of a woman who filled their home with dance, music, singing and art wanted to dance, limbs or no limbs.

April 2 was a special day. Kiera was going to perform at the school’s annual Diversity Assembly, a morning-long student showcase. As she danced, each move was charged with emotion. Tears wet her cheeks. On the final note, as she bent in a graceful bow, students jumped from their seats, applauding and shouting her name. Afterward, Kiera wheeled through the hallway to her English class. Friends bent down to give her hugs.
“When I dance, I can freely express myself. It’s my own therapy.”

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