— Nearly a year after losing a leg during the earthquake that devastated Haiti, an Arizona woman is fulfilling the promise she made to herself that day to live her life to its fullest and to give something back to the Haitians who selflessly rushed to her aid.
“It’s just so amazing to me that these people took so much time out of their lives in such a traumatic situation to help me,” Christa Brelsford, 26, told TODAY’s Matt Lauer during a live interview Tuesday in New York. “I have to give back. I have to make sure they move forward.”
But before Brelsford could help her friends in Haiti move forward, she had to learn how to do that for herself. She told the doctors forced to amputate one of her legs below the knee that she’d run a marathon someday, and she still intends to do that.
“I’m not sure how long it will take, but I’m going to,” she said. “Just a few weeks ago, I got my running leg.”
Just weeks after her fourth and final surgery, Brelsford was back home in Arizona learning to use her new prosthetic. Soon, she returned to hiking and rock climbing, two of her many passions.
“It’s been easier than I would have expected. Each step, you get a new prosthetic. You get a little better. You get a bit smoother,” she said. “Now I really do feel like I don’t have any limitations at all.”
When Brelsford returned to Haiti in early November, her gait was steady but inside she was a bit uneasy as she showed off her “magic foot” to the Haitians who pulled her from the debris of a house that had collapsed on top of her.
“I was [afraid]. There’s the cholera, the elections, the devastation from the earthquake. It really is a harsh life there,” said Brelsford, who is teaching a graduate-level seminar on Haiti’s reconstruction while pursuing her own doctorate degree in sustainability in Arizona. “I knew it, but seeing it is pretty different.”
Despite her fears, Brelsford said she had to go back to Haiti. “I needed to say thank you,” she says of her mission. Along with paying gratitude to her saviors, Brelsford went to promote her foundation, “Christa’s Angels.” The nonprofit group helped rebuild a school damaged by the earthquake, allowing 177 schoolchildren to get an education.
She also had a tearful reunion with Wenson Georges, the teenaged Haitian who grabbed a pickax and worked with Brelsford’s brother and others to free her from the debris. Georges had been following Brelsford, who was in Haiti promoting literacy when the quake struck, in order to learn English.
“She’s my sister,” Georges told NBC’s Kerry Sanders, who accompanied Brelsford on her trip back to Haiti in November.
Besides thanking Georges and others who helped her, Brelsford took the November trip so that she could persuade U.S. officials there to grant an education visa so that Georges could get an education in Alaska.
“It’s been a long process, but we are hoping he will have a visa interview in early January and shortly after that go to Anchorage to live with my family and go to high school,” Brelsford told Lauer.
If Brelsford weren’t busy enough teaching, traveling abroad and helping to rebuild Haiti, she’ll soon have even more on her plate: She and her boyfriend, who got engaged in the days following the quake, are planning a July wedding.
Asked by Lauer where she gets her “inner strength,” Brelsford paused a second, smiled, and sort of shrugged.
“I don’t know,” she said. “I guess I just keep going.”