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news item News Thursday, March 22, 2018 Saturday, February 17, 2018 1:38 PM - Saturday, February 17, 2018 1:38 PM

Santiago Vega – “Let joy rule your life!”

Name: Santiago “Santi” Vega
Age: 20
Hometown: Salt Lake City
Sport: Downhill Skiing

Santiago “Santi” Vega, 20, is a Paralympic skier with a mathematical mind and a poetic heart. Born in Chile, Vega came to Shriners Hospitals for Children at the age of 2. Eighteen years and 23 surgeries later, he calls the Salt Lake City Shriners Hospital and Utah home, and is studying biomedical engineering and emergency medical services at the University of Utah.

Vega was born with fibular hemimelia, a birth defect that compromised the formation of his right leg, and syndactyly, a condition that caused the fingers on his right hand to be fused together. Vega’s parents heard about Shriners Hospitals for Children — Salt Lake City and brought him to the U.S. for treatment. From the moment they arrived, the family felt hopeful. Now, years later, Vega has functioning fingers and a prosthetic leg that allow him to do most anything he wants.

Vega competed in the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, as the youngest member of the Chilean downhill ski team. He will travel to PyeongChang, South Korea, for the 2018 Winter Paralympics this March for a second chance at gold. In addition to skiing, Vega also enjoys mountain climbing – scaling rough surfaces to dizzying heights, sailing the stormy Chilean seas and even mountain biking.

“I would not be the person I am without Shriners Hospitals,” Vega said. “These are the guys who made me walk; made me a ski racer. They’re the reason I’m studying biomedical engineering.” Vega considers members of his medical team close friends. “I grew up at Shriners Hospitals with that push-forward-do everything-you-can-do attitude. Try, and if it doesn’t work, find another way. That’s the mentality I’ve learned at Shriners Hospitals.”

That “no limits” attitude fuels Vega’s resiliency and has motivated him in all his athletic pursuits. It was his attendance at Shriners Hospitals Camp Un-LIMB-ited, a ski and snowboard program for teen amputees, that inspired Vega to compete. He has since returned to mentor younger patients, so they too can push beyond traditional limits of their conditions.

“If they offered me all the money in the world to have two legs, I’d say no. I’m the person I am, and I’ve gone to the places I’ve been because of my prosthetic,” Vega said. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

Looking ahead, Vega imagines himself as an engineer, perhaps working alongside those who have treated him. He is also drawn to emergency medicine search and rescue, where he could help people while being on the mountains he knows so well.

“Use your experiences to bounce higher,” he says. “You come up so much stronger and happier. Let joy rule your life!”

Santiago Vega

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