iBOT Personal Mobility Device
Karene--in her words.
Karene Hardin Spina Bifida, Hydrocephalus Malformed Hip joints, Paraplegic, Spinal Fusion- Base of Neck to the Coccyx.
I was not eating by mouth for years. I use a manual wheelchair.11/20/2006 Date of birth and onset of injury I was born in a small town outside Yerevan, Armenia. In Armenia, people still have arranged marriages, and people back out of arranged marriages when a disabled child is born because they assume the family has bad genes. Disabled children are just abandoned in the hospital. The family goes home and says the baby stays and dies. I was abandoned. In a former Soviet country, they "do not waste resources on someone that can't contribute to society." The hospitals in Armenia do not have many resources; nurses are stretched thin, the hospital I was born in didn't even have hot water, and the nursery didn't have light bulbs. I was left alone in the darkness to die. The Lord heard my cry! A nun from a local orphanage came to care for another abandoned child across the hallway from me and heard my cry. There was no one caring for me. No food, no water, and no one even entered the room. The nun's heart was touched. To the nurse's anger, the nun gave me something to drink and eat and held me for one of the first times in my life. I stopped crying. The nurses just wanted me to pass away so they would not have to care for me. The orphanage requested to be able to take me home and care for me.
Meanwhile, my soon-to-be parents, David and Kathy Hardin, felt they had room for a special child in the US. They had a large family, but they felt God was leading them to adopt a child that no one else wanted. My new family started saving & raising money, having yard sales and car washes. Though my parents had already lost over $10,000 in an adoption scam, my mom fell in love with the picture of the girl with beautiful eyes, and she talked my dad into giving adoption one more try. My dad flew to Armenia in September 2010. I had lived in the orphanage or the hospital my entire life, terrified of everything. This man picked me up and walked out the orphanage door with me, and I was terrified. I panicked. My dad, ever patient, just stood outside the gates and waited for me to settle. He said he wanted to be my PaPa and let me wear his ball cap. The next day he picked me up, and out we went. He carried me all over town. We walked five miles in the desert sun, going from shop to shop, trying to learn to communicate. My new PaPa stayed a week, then he went home, saying my new Mother would come to get me soon. On March 24, 2011, the adoption agency called my new mom, stating I went through the surgery just fine. She did not know I even needed surgery. The next day, the nuns from my orphanage called and said I was still very sick from a shunt infection. The nuns called again on the third day and told my mom, "If you want to see her alive, you better come now." Mom and my oldest new sister flew to Armenia the next day. After a 24-hour trip, my mom visited the hospital to see me for the first time. Mom went out into the hall and called Dad. "She is gray-green. You have to get us out of here now!"
But I could not go to America yet. The Armenian government or the American government had not finalized the adoption. There was no case on the court docket, and both government offices were closed the following week. The doctor told Mom I would not survive ten more days. They would not give me antibiotics. "It was a waste of resources!" The shunt in my head should generally drain into a vein leading to my heart, but because of the infection, the shunt was removed from the vein and drained into a used IV bag. I could not sit up, and the airlines would not allow me to travel lying down for a 24-hour flight home. The doctor told Mom he would be operating on me by the Saturday of the next week, and he did not expect me to survive that surgery. At each step, my family prayed for God to break down the barriers, and each time, he did. Despite all the obstacles of my adoption, prognosis, and limitations, God provided, and my adoption was approved, and I was issued a passport in 15 minutes. We still did not have travel arrangements. Medical insurance backed out of paying the $125,000 for an air ambulance. The airlines would not allow me to fly without a doctor's approval. The doctor did not like treating a disabled child and did not understand why Mom and Dad wanted me. He signed the travel approval paperwork stating, "If you want it, take it!" I was not even a person to him. The airlines required a doctor or nurse to fly with me. We did not have time for someone to fly to Armenia from America. It
A nun at the orphanage was an RN and an EU citizen, so she did not need a visa to fly into the country. A man we did not know and had never met paid for the last-minute air flight for the nurse. I arrived in Nashville, and we went straight to Vanderbilt Children's Hospital. I spent eight weeks and had six surgeries before seeing my new home. The medical bill for my first eight weeks of medical care was paid for by someone we do not know. I have had at least 20surgeries. My spine is rodded and fused from the base of my neck to my coccyx. I have had severe incidents with pressure sores, but I was alive and happy.
My family never treated me like I was small. Just after my ninth birthday, my new mom died from complications of breast cancer. Dad was left with six homeschooled kids at home. Dad helped me acclimate to fifth grade in public school. Everyone was friendly, but they all seemed to look over me. But my dad still treated me like I was tall. My dad met a remarkable woman. She has become his wife and my new mom. Lorna is good at all the stuff that Dad doesn't get. She is teaching me to cook, unlike Dad's cooking, but good stuff. When I cook at home, it is hard to reach most things. I can't reach the stove or sink. I have a microwave, toaster, and air fryer. My dad's favorite meal that I make is breaded pork chops and corn on the cob. I am now a sophomore at Liberty Creek High School. I work at Zaxby's Friday nights and 8 hours on Saturday as a greeter, but few people understand I am an employee.
When sitting in a wheelchair and only 4'9" standing people just don't see you. You are just looked over. At school, I am invisible to most of my fellow students or just that little girl in a wheelchair. No one gets down on my level to even talk to me. At Northfield Church, they try to act with me more, but because I am so short in the chair, I am undermost conversations. But I know I am so much more because my friends and family have never treated me like I am small. Presently, I am in good health, and I do all of my daily care and needs myself. I use a manual wheelchair all the time. I have my driver's permit, but I still need a vehicle, and someone has to pick me up and put me in the car seat when we go somewhere. I have tried using a transfer board and lifting my wheelchair into our family car, but my spinal fusion limits my flexibility, and though I have worked hard, I don't have the upper body strength. I need a vehicle with a lift and hand controls to become independent. I desire to go to college or get an excellent job to be fully independent.
God has helped move me from being bedridden and fed only by a feeding tube for five years to self-sufficiency. I can cook with small appliances, self-bathe, do my laundry & do household chores for the family. I graduated high school in two years. My parents are retirement age. My goal is to become more independent, attend college or vocational training, cook for my family, and serve my church. To meet these goals, it would help me to reach the countertops and cabinets. My current transportation is also a significant hurdle. I want to be able to look my peers in the eyes and never be talked over because I am not small. If I receive a chair, I will get to tell others about the program in person and online. When I arrived in Nashville, a local TV station did a few stories about me. We could contact them and see if they would be interested in a human interest story! Me and my family's faith has removed every obstacle I have encountered, and I will pray for this opportunity and thank God this opportunity exists for others every night. I appreciate your consideration!
Karene, American Mobility Project is happy to award to you an iBOT Personal Mobility Device. We look forward to see where you go!
Karene picked up her iBOT in the summer of 2023 and has been nonstop ever since!