“Crutching around was a full-body workout, especially with a heavy backpack. My campus apartment also lacked an elevator, so I crutched up four flights of stairs multiple times a day to get in and out of my apartment.”
Honors College Student Kamryn Dehn, at the time entering her junior year, was recovering from major surgery. Even that phrase hardly covers it. The operation, the culmination of two decades of doctors, medications, diagnoses, and disappointments, was seven hours. She was learning to walk all over again.
But perhaps we should take a step back.
Kamryn was diagnosed with hip dysplasia at just one week old. The condition itself is relatively common, although it varies in severity. Kamryn’s case on more severe, and was coupled with a rare condition called Perthes Disease, further complicating hip and leg development. She underwent two surgeries at a very young age, one as an infant and one at age two, both requiring a body cast.
For some time, she and her family thought that her medical concerns were more or less behind them. Then, in high school, more issues began to surface. She would experience painful back spasms, nerve pain, deep hip and leg aches. The symptoms would flare without warning, seeming to come and go without explanation. They went to many doctors, but were unable at that time to find satisfactory answers. During this time, Kamryn was also subjected to various forms of disability discrimination. Because she had what is sometimes called an invisible disability, many made assumptions about her condition, many of them less than gracious.
“I remember the nasty, judgmental looks I would get for using disabled parking spots when I was learning how to walk without my crutch,” she said. “I heard phrases in high school like ‘oh, you’re fine,’ or ‘oh, you’re just exaggerating, it can’t be that bad,’ from friends, and even some teammates, when I spoke up about my condition and my pain. I was at a mentally vulnerable age when I heard these phrases. The response from peers and teammates only made me more hesitant to speak up for myself later on.”
Despite all of these physical challenges, Kamryn came to Purdue. She was still unable to find answers regarding her condition. Her struggles began to reach their height when a muscle in her hip socket was shredded during her sophomore year. Afterward, she was unable to walk longer than 20 minutes at a time.
“This was the kind of pain that took me breath away,” she said. “I felt like I wasn’t physically capable of walking and the feeling was indescribable.”
It was this path that led her to a specialist who was able to provide a surgery that brought relief to Kamryn’s pain. She returned to campus that fall, still on crutches, and going from class to class. During this time, despite the tremendous physical challenges, she also was heavily involved in campus activities. She served as an officer for the Purdue American Fisheries Society, service chair for the Wesley Foundation campus ministry, and the volunteer recruitment chair for Purdue Winterization.
“I would also like to note that this heavy load was my choice,” she said. “If someone else had the exact same operation and chose to take the semester off, that would be equally respectable in my eyes. Just because I chose to return full-time does not mean it should be the standard for others in similar positions.”
She is now walking independently and has experienced vast improvement following the surgery. In recognition of her story and her accomplishments, Kamryn was named the recipient of the second annual Tyler Trent Courage and Resilience Award.
“As most Boilermakers know, Tyler Trent was an incredibly persistent individual with remarkable courage. This scholarship allows all of us to keep his spirit alive and helps remind us to be our best selves every day,” she said. “I feel very honored that my story was selected for this award. Receiving this honor gives me a platform to speak about my story, what others with my condition experience, and improvements we can make at Purdue University and in our own lives.”
You can read more about the scholarship here.