Kaia Jergenson: A Portrait of Perseverance

The topic for today’s article changed suddenly last night as the 10 o’clock news echoed behind me. I do not cry much anymore. It takes a lot to “get to me.” But the voice and words that followed the news anchor’s story introduction caused a lump to form in my throat and tears to well up in my eyes.

The voice and words were those of Kaia Jergenson. For those of you living outside the Middle Tennessee area, her name will be unfamiliar to you. After you hear her story, you will never forget her.

On January 3rd of this year, most people were still laughing about the Y2K bug that never came. For Kaia Jergenson, the Y2K bug came in the form of bacterial meningitis. Kaia became seriously ill and was rushed to St. Thomas Hospital in Nashville where doctors frantically worked to save her life.

At the time of her illness, Jergenson was a freshman majoring in pre-med at Lipscomb University in Nashville. She was a 6’2” center on the women’s basketball team on full scholarship. She was off to a tremendous start in her first season as a Lady Bison, averaging 12.5 points and 5.5 rebounds a contest. The year before she was Most Valuable Player of the 1999 Class AAA Tennessee State Girls Basketball Tournament, leading Gallatin High School to the state championship.

Jergenson survived the meningitis. Her basketball career, legs and fingers on her writing hand did not.

The meningitis ravaged Kaia’s body. Due to dead tissue that threatened her life, doctors had to amputate Kaia’s legs below the knee. Only the thumb and half of her ring finger remain on her writing hand.

After the amputations, numerous skin grafts and 79 days in St. Thomas Hospital, Kaia was transferred to the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. There she had to learn new skills with a wheelchair and voice-activated computer.

After five months of grueling therapy, fitted with her new prosthetic legs, Kaia walked out of the Lipscomb University student center yesterday to a standing ovation of over 2,000 of her classmates. She walked to a podium to address the student body. One part of her address deeply touched my soul.

"A young student took the time to make a box from construction paper, and there was a message inside that box for me," said Kaia. "It said 'I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.' And after that, I knew that even though I lost my legs and my fingers and the function of my left arm, that I was o.k. because God was with me. And I knew I would walk again, and that I could write, and I would return to school."

Thanks to Kaia, “I can’t” should disappear from the vocabularies of many.


Article from Tennessean newspaper