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news item Tuesday, March 19, 2019 Tuesday, March 19, 2019 9:31 AM - Tuesday, March 19, 2019 9:31 AM

Heartfelt thanks from a grateful patient

Krystal was born 24 years ago on Valentine’s Day in Vancouver, Canada. Weighing in at just 3 pounds, 9 ounces, she was delivered eight weeks early. Born with a hole in her stomach, Krystal's bladder and intestines were on the outside of her body, and her legs were crossed and folded over her stomach. The name for this condition is arthrogryposis multiplex congenita (AMC). The doctors told Terina, Krystal’s mother, that the chance of the baby’s survival was slim. For the new parents, their world was turned upside down. Leaving the hospital with a new baby struggling for life in their arms was a devastating experience.

However, Krystal survived and became stronger. In February she returned from Melbourne, Australia, after competing in the Paralympic Swimming World Series. How could this be possible?

During her first year of life, Krystal's parents researched the care provided at several medical locations, hoping that something could be done to help their daughter. Krystal had club feet and no muscle growing in her legs. Her hips were dislocated and one of her knees was bent at 90 degrees.

A colleague of Krystal's father mentioned Shriners Hospitals for Children, and Krystal made her first visit to Shriners Hospitals for Children — Canada when she was 3 1/2 years old.

Krystal underwent her first surgery at the age of 5. When she woke from surgery, a "Lizzy," or Ilizarov apparatus, was attached to her leg. The Ilizarov apparatus is an orthopaedic external fixation device designed to lengthen or straighten bones or soft tissue. Krystal had the "Lizzy" on for a total of six months.

During her second trip to Montreal, she had a waist-to-ankle body cast applied. When the cast was removed eight weeks later, Krystal saw her legs and shouted, "Look mom, I'm normal!" Her legs were now repositioned and turned forward.

Krystal took her first steps at the age of 6. One day when she was near the coffee table at home, she took a decisive look and began to take a step, all alone and without help.

These first steps happened because of an extraordinary health care system called Shriners Hospitals for Children.

"I also want to thank those very special doctors too! There is also one person who has always supported me and who has always fought for me and that person is my mother. I cried and screamed because she made me walk when I wanted to be carried. With tears in her eyes, she answered me tirelessly, 'I know you hate me now, I am doing this for your own good and you will thank me later,' ” Krystal recounted.

Krystal began to swim competitively when she was 9. She did not plan to go far with this sport, as her main goal was to gain muscle and flexibility in her legs. Yet at age 12, she competed in her first international-level competition and won two silver medals. She had found her passion. Krystal became part of the Saskatchewan team at age 14, and competed at the Canada Games where she won a bronze medal. When 15, she represented Canada at the World Championships in Brazil. Then, disaster struck when she developed a blood clot in her leg. She thought her swimming career was over, as well as a huge part of her life.

Krystal had surgery to remove the blood clot from her leg. There were complications after the surgery which kept Krystal out of the water for almost a year. By this time Krystal was too old to rejoin her former swim team, and when she started university in Regina, she was denied a spot on the team. One day Krystal was in the pool swimming and was spotted by a coach who knew her from her days competing in the Canada Games, and when he asked her to join his competitive team, her swimming career began again. Soon after, she went to Sheffield in the U.K. for the Paralympic Swimming World Series and competed against the best of the best in the world.

"From the bottom of my heart, I want to thank the Shriners and all of the hospital staff for giving me and all the other children a chance to reach our fullest potential. Thank you does not seem like enough," said Krystal.

Krystal and date in formal attire