New outlook, new effort: Elise Agenbroad has learned a lot about ‘can do’ attitude

January 2011 Posted in People

By Kristine ThomasElise Agenbroad, 14, attended camps for burn survivors and amputees last summer. They gave her new confidence and a willingness to try new things.

Pratum Elementary School eighth-grade student Elise Agenbroad no longer feels alone in the world.

During the summer of 2010,  Elise went to an amputee camp in Ohio, a burn victims’ camp in Colorado and an International Firefighters camp in Washington D.C.

“Being in Silverton, there was no one else in sight like me and it was an epic bummer. I thought I was the only one that felt like I did,” Elise said. “When I went to the camps and met other people like me and heard their stories and learned how they deal with things, it made me feel normal.”

Her mother, Marilyn Agenbroad, said Elise returned from the camps with a new outlook.

“We are grateful for the different opportunities that Elise had last summer,” Marilyn said. “She has gained confidence and is willing to do things she normally shied away from.  It’s been tough for her at times. We’ve worked with Duane Dahlum, LSCW, to help her get through the bumps. Going to these camps and interacting with kids who face similar struggles has dramatically impacted Elise.”

Born in Brazil in 1996, Elise was a month old when a lantern fell on her bed. Seriously burned, she spent three months in a Brazilian hospital before being transferred to an orphanage. Brad and Marilyn Agenbroad of Silverton have four adopted children, Nico, 20, from Guatemala; Lewis, 19, from India; Jena, 16, from China and Elise, 14, from Brazil. Elise was adopted when she was 10 months old.

Marilyn Agenbroad can’t count the number of visits and surgeries Elise had at Shriners Hospital for Children in Portland. Children up to age 18 years old with orthopedic conditions, burns, spinal cord injuries, and cleft lip and palate are eligible for care and receive all services in a family-centered environment, without charge.

“When we first met Elise, both her legs were at 45 degree angles due to contraction of burn scars,” Marilyn said. “Shriners gave her the gift of walking.”

Sitting in a wingback chair in her family’s living room, Elise drapes her legs over the arm. Tugging on the right leg of her jeans, she reveals her prosthesis.

“I am also missing a finger on my right hand and I am 14 years old but have size 2.5 feet – in kids,” she said, “which is totally uncool, especially since one foot is smaller than the other.”

For five years, Elise has attended the burn camp in Colorado. Each year, campers take a “sunrise hike,” where they climb a steep hill to watch the sunrise over the Rocky Mountains.

A few times, Elise has tried the hike, only to have to quit because the pain was too intense from the prosthesis rubbing on her burn scars.

“I was seriously scared half to death to do the hike,” she said.

By attending the amputee camp first this year, then going to the burn victims’ camp, Elise saw “a lot of people worse off than me who were missing both their arms or legs.”

“I saw how much they could do and how much I held back,” she said. “I got a motivational burst from them and thought if they can do it, than I can seriously do it.”

This summer, realizing that if she “seriously” put her mind to something, she could do it. Elise not only completed the sunrise hike at the burn victims’ camp but also accepted the challenge of the teens’ overnight backpacking trip for the first time.

“Just because I lost a foot doesn’t lessen my capability,” she said.

Marilyn and Brad Agenbroad are thankful for all the support their daughter has receive. Skilled surgeons at Shriners Hospital for Children in Portland took on the challenges of preventing further amputations and gave Elise use of both legs and her right hand. It was while sitting in the waiting room thumbing through magazines that Marilyn Agenbroad learned about the Amputee Coalition’s Youth Camp.

Through donations, a limited number of kids can attend for free.

“We’ve tried to encourage Elise to go to this camp for many years but she wasn’t ready,” Marilyn said.

“This year, she willingly wrote the essay required to go and was accepted.”

Although Elise was treated in Brazil for her burns, the Burn Support Group at Emanuel Hospital in Portland warmly included her and invited her to Cheley’s Children’s Burn Camp in Colorado. Many contributors make it possible to fly kids to the camp free of charge to the families.

“It’s an incredible blessing; we couldn’t do this on our own,” Marilyn said, adding because camp counselors at the burn camp noticed Elise’s “can-do spirit” this year, she was the one selected from Cheley to attend the International Firefighters’ Burn Camp in Washington, D.C. Her family was again overwhelmed to learn that Elise would have this amazing opportunity gratis.

Elise’s seventh-grade year at Pratum Elementary School was her first year in public school. She was a home school student, taught by her mom for kindergarten through sixth-grade.

Some days, she had to attend school in a wheelchair and some days, she felt shy around her classmates.

One day, Elise said, she decided to wear shorts for her PE class rather than her normal jeans. When the students saw her prosthetic leg, they stared, causing Elise to hide in the girls’ bathroom stall.

Her teacher, Dawn Roth, found Elise crying the bathroom and told her that most kids never had seen a prosthesis so that’s why they stared.

“She told me if I explained to them what it was, they would understand,” Elise said. “The next day I showed them how my leg worked and told them how it flew off while playing soccer when I was little.”

Roth described Elise as a special young lady, who is witty, spunky and probably one of the nicest people she has had the pleasure of knowing.

“Elise has added so very much to our classroom and has been an inspiration to us all,” Roth said. “She is genuine and kind-hearted, always sticking up for the underdog.”

Realizing she’s “insanely funny” when she acts like her “normal self,” Elise contemplates being an actress, a writer or an international inspirational speaker.

Her strength derives from her family and her faith. She knows can handle whatever challenges are before her because she has already been through some “pretty tough times.”

Meeting people who are like her and who are living their life to their fullest has made Elise realize she can either let what happened to her hold her back or she can make the choice to move forward.

“I have been putting a little more effort into things,” she said. “If you don’t put the effort into what you want, than you don’t get anywhere.”

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