Love is indeed one thing that can break barriers, bridge gaps and make life worth living. That is what Jlissa Austin, 30, from Houston, Texas has found out.
Jlissa was born with no arms, knees and just seven toes, but love has seen her surpass people’s expectations.
First and foremost, the love from her family members who supported her all through her trying times has been such a rare gift she can’t trade for anything.
Then, comes the love of her life – Johnathan Shorter – a man with an exceptional heart who has treasured and loved her like no other. This beautiful soul called Johnathan has been Jlissa’s angel for the past 13 years as the two have been through a lot and conquered.
Even after being told that she wouldn’t make her 18th birthday, Jlissa standing at just three feet four inches tall, Jlissa is today a hardworking entrepreneur who owns her own weave company.
In an interview with Barcroft, Jlissa revealed that she has not allowed her disability affect her life. She has learnt to brush her teeth with her toes and even eat food too. And on some occasions, she can comfortable help herself in the restroom.
Speaking about her relationship with Johnathan, Jlissa said: ‘Me and Johnathan are very good together. We’re so in tune.
‘I didn’t think it would ever happen to me – meeting someone like this. It feels so good to know that Johnathan is by my side.
‘When people see us walking around together, some of them shake Johnathan’s hand and say “I salute you, you’re doing a good job”. But we don’t experience issues with people judging our relationship too much thankfully.
‘We’re both really looking forward to our wedding, now.’
Although she can do most things on her own, Johnathan still helps Jlissa with eating, getting in and out of cars and reaching things that are too high for her in their apartment.
Johnathan said: ‘Jlissa is a great person and a great friend. She is so lovable.
‘We are a complete team now. We met 13 years ago through mutual friends. We became friends at the start and then just grew to love each other.
‘When she first opened up about her condition, I just listened and I welcomed her with open arms.
‘It’s never mattered to me that she has no arms, or no hands, or that she’s small and her condition has never affected our love life. I just love her as a regular person and treat her like that.’
Doctors have failed to diagnose Jlissa’s condition.
She said: ‘I still haven’t been properly diagnosed. I don’t think I ever will be now. ‘It was just explained to my mother that I do not have knees, or arms and I have stunted growth.
‘They said I would never walk or live to see my 18th birthday. Here I am now, 30 years old and able to do so many things.’
Jlissa’s mother, Deborah Austin speaking of how she felt after learning of her daughter’s disability, said she was shocked.
Deborah said: ‘If anything, when I was pregnant with Jlissa, I thought she would come out with long legs because she was kicking so much.
‘I was really overwhelmed when I discovered her symptoms. The first few days were very hard, but we managed to get through it.
‘We then began to address how we were going to handle it in the future. We pushed through life and here we are now, happy together.’
Speaking about her early school days, Jlissa said: ‘People treated me and loved me well during school. I didn’t experience any real bullying. Kids are just kids. But I think they loved me because I was like a little doll to them. It was a good time of my life.’
As far as Jlissa is concerned, she feels there is nothing she cannot achieve. For her, the word impossible is not in her dictionary.
Hear her: ‘The everyday tasks that I can still do; I brush my teeth, use my phone, work on a daily basis and go out and network myself. I can pick a lot of things up with my feet. On a good day, I am also able to take myself to the restroom.
‘The word ‘can’t’ is just not in my vocabulary. I am here today, being the person I was meant to be. I want to tell everyone to stay strong and be yourself. Never give up.
‘I’m really proud of myself and how far I have come.’