That is the only way to describe Desiree Vila Bargiela.
Three years ago Desiree’s life was turned upside down when she had to have her right leg amputated above the knee.
As a child, Desiree attended dancing lessons for seven years in her small town of Galicia in Spain. Even at such a young age, Desiree was committed to doing her best, even winning the national hip-hop contest. At the age of 13 she started practising acrobatic gymnastics and she said she knew from day one “I had found the perfect sport for me”. Three years later she was told she would represent Spain in the Paris world championships. Every night for years she had dreamt of this moment; to compete in front of thousands of spectators from all over the world.
Desiree describes this time as a juggle between practising for the sport she loved with the necessity of schooling. “In the mornings I was just a first-year high school student, preparing for exams… In the afternoon I was much more than a girl. High-level sport makes you mature, makes you become a woman, makes you decide your goals and work very hard to get them.” She describes that she felt “powerful” when she trained and considered herself a warrior.
That was until the day her accident happened.
During one of her usual training sessions, Desiree had a bad fall from a trampoline and was taken to the emergency room with a fracture in her tibia and fibula (bones in the leg). At this point, she was upset because she thought it would probably stop her from competing that year and at worst she could end up with a large scar.
Desiree spent a few days in hospital in immense pain and when the situation did not improve the doctor who was treating her decided to move her to another hospital. Unfortunately, it was too late. It had been over 72 hours since her fall and the torn bone had clogged an artery which in turn had prevented blood from reaching the lower part of her leg. The consequence was that her lower leg had ‘died’ and had to be amputated.
Had this been caught on time Desiree would still have her leg today. This fact was confirmed by the Spanish courts.
The orthopaedic surgeon who first attended to her injuries had not made the correct assessment and omitted testing despite well-founded suspicions. The doctor was sentenced to two years in prison and four years not practising in the medical field and also to pay compensation to Desiree amounting to 2.1 million euros. Apparently, in Spain, this does not mean the doctor goes to prison since the prison sentence does not exceed two years and the doctor has no previous criminal record. Also, do not think Desiree suddenly became an overnight millionaire. The amount she received in compensation goes mostly to her prostheses: 1.1 million for normal prostheses and about 500,000 for sports.
But the sentencing provides no consolation for Desiree. All she wanted from the doctor was a simple “I’m sorry”. She says the apology would not bring her leg back but at least he would have recognised his mistake. He instead wrote her a handwritten letter blaming his colleagues at the hospital for the mistake he had made. Throughout the trial, Desiree says he was not even able to look at her in the eyes.
Desiree was just 16-years-old when all her hopes and dreams were lost. What followed was a time in her life which she describes as “black”. She had to be treated for depression and what followed was a long psychological and rehabilitation process. “Having to leave the sport I loved was, without a doubt, the hardest thing to do, but also having to grow up suddenly, enduring the stares and comments of people, walking with my crutches, shedding many tears and the feelings of rejection. A body that, I thought, did not correspond with me, with a 16-year-old girl, ” were the words used by Desiree to describe how she felt then. The darkness might have swallowed up anyone else but Desiree fought on.
She describes the day when she first tried on her prosthesis. At an orthopaedic clinic surrounded by her loved ones everyone waited for her to take her first steps, the same steps she had taken as a child in her grandmother’s bakery in front of the same people. However, she was disappointed. She had been waiting for this moment for so long but she says “my leg was a piece of metal bolted with tubes and a yellow rubber foot.” She even tried to make light of the situation by asking the technician if she could paint the nails of the awful foot but even that was shot down. Her spirits were so low as she describes the feelings she felt during her first attempts to walk. “Pain, itching… how could I concentrate on walking if all I wanted to do was get rid of the horrendous thing on my leg and scratch my stump”, she says.
Her new life as an amputee proved to challenge her every day but in just a few months she went from taking her first steps, to painting her toenails on both feet, learning to use the stairs, going to the beach and finally after a bit over a year to run.
Desiree can now proudly describe herself as a 19-year-old athlete who holds the national record for the 100m sprint and long jump, albeit with a prosthesis. She now has a new set of goals and dreams with the next one being to participate in the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. And this was all within one year of her commencing the new sport.
Desiree also still finds time to continue her studies and was actually in Malta doing her Erasmus just this year. During her time here her training continued with strength and conditioning coach Nigel McCarthy who describes her resilience as astounding and says “she simply radiates positiveness.”
And that’s not all… Desiree also just published a book entitled “The only incurable thing is the will to live” which narrates the traumatic experience she faced. Unfortunately, the book is in Spanish but she has plans to translate it to English very soon.
“What determines your courage is not to participate in a war but to try to defeat it instead of letting yourself die in it. Fight until the end instead of being crushed by sadness or depression, by anger, loneliness and torment. All of them are negative thoughts, feelings that do not help us to advance, that stagnate us and abandon us in our own well with no way out, with the fear and horror of sinking us forever. In addition to the love that my loved ones gave me, my inner strength was what really made the difference between a quick recovery or a long-suffering one” says Desiree, which perfectly describes just how determined she is.