Location: Baltimore, Maryland
Occupation: Motivational speaker
Clinic: Fitted by Touch Life Center, Hilliard, Ohio
Rayna DuBose is a natural athlete. She says that when she was younger, she wasn't that interested in academics, preferring to spend all the time she could practicing ballet and playing volleyball and her beloved basketball. She was a much recruited prospect after high school and was courted by several colleges, ultimately accepting a full athletic scholarship to Virginia Tech to play Division 1 Women's Basketball.
In April 2002, part way through her freshman year, she was struck down with meningococcal meningitis, which resulted in her spending three weeks in a coma. She awakened to her family and doctors crowded around her hospital bed, her plastic surgeon delivering the news that all four of her limbs would need to amputated. This was in addition to the collapsed organs, non-functioning kidneys necessitating dialysis, and liver and circulatory problems she continued to battle against. It was the circulatory issues that caused the gangrene that affected both arms and legs. Ultimately, Rayna spent 96 days in the UVA Medical Center in Charlottesville, Virginia, fighting for her life.
"Being an athlete, we have a fighting spirit ingrained in us to bounce back from adversity," said Rayna. In order to recover, she would need to call on that instinct and rely on her strong faith, as well as draw on the support from her devastated but close-knit network of friends and family.
"My parents and my brother had a hard time talking about it at first, it was so traumatic for everyone. Over time, we were all able to tap into the tremendous support system from our communities - sports, amputee groups, friends. We quickly learned that we were not the only ones going through something like this and that was comforting."
An important decision
When faced with her new life as a quadrilateral amputee, Rayna felt she needed to make an important decision.
"I could either sulk or I could make a life for myself. I decided to do the latter. God had a plan for me; I didn't yet realize what that plan was, but over time my eyes were opened to a whole other world. Because of my illness and my amputations, I now accept everybody. What we go through in life teaches us who we are, makes us grateful. Some people, like me, need life-altering events like this to wake us up. Being an amputee is one of the greatest things that's happened to me because it's given me an opportunity to help other people."
Rayna persevered and finished her schooling, graduating in 2007 with a degree in consumer studies from Virginia Tech. She also returned to the basketball court as student assistant coach, maintaining an active role with the Hokies.
Rayna recognized herself the inspirational role her story could play for others and started to book speaking engagements with groups that wanted to hear her unique take on priorities in life, determination, perseverance and never giving up. Her upbeat attitude and inspirational story have formed the foundation of her own successful motivational speaking company that sees her traveling the world, speaking to business, school and other groups.
Her courage and exceptional attitude have garnered her countless awards. In 2003, she received the Most Courageous Award at the Men's Final Four in New Orleans. In 2005, she received the Wilma Rudolph Award. She was also given the 2009 National Ethnic Coalition Organization Congressional Ellis Island Medal of Honor, and was the 2009 McDonalds Athlete of the Day for the Military Paralympics. Her latest recognition came when the Cirque du Salute at the 2011 NCAA Women's Final Four feted her as an honoree.
In early 2010, Rayna accompanied a lower-limb prosthetic supplier to a prosthetics trade show. In between demonstrating her "running legs" to tradeshow attendees, Rayna talked with the exhibitors in the adjacent booth, Touch Bionics. As a bi-lateral upper extremity amputee, Rayna became keenly interested in the company's products and by the end of the conference had decided that it was time for an upgrade to her prostheses. She had been wearing traditional myoelectric prostheses but was excited at the prospect of moving to the latest in prosthetic technology.
In May 2011, she was fitted with an i-LIMB Pulse on her dominant right hand and a lifelike LIVINGSKIN passive aesthetic hand for her left. Prior to being fitted, she drew some analogies about her new prostheses.
I'm excited for the normalcy that the i-LIMB Pulse will bring. Its movements are more lifelike, not just hard plastic and metal like my current hand. With the LIVINGSKIN hand, I liken it to able-bodied people keeping up with the latest sneakers or fashion. These are the hottest prosthetics available. I'm a real girly girl and like to get dressed up; these prosthetics help me bring my sexy back. Rayna DuBose
Once fitted with her two new hands, Rayna was effusive.
"I feel like my old self again! Getting fitted was truly like Christmas. I LOVE THEM!"