The 14 hours of surgery were difficult as well.
They tried to save my leg and did everything they could, but they couldn’t save it. They even took out my saphenous vein. I have a huge scar on this leg. But it wasn’t possible, so they had to amputate. From this point on, what I’m going to tell you is how my life totally changed after that day and how I became someone [inaudible], someone who loves challenges, someone who lives life to the max, and, more importantly, someone that found a true purpose for life that day. At 6:00 in the morning, my parents came to give me news of the amputation, and my immediate reaction was to say, “It’s OK. Thank God I’m alive, right?” All I could think was to give thanks, again and again.
I felt such a relief that I hadn’t lost my life that day that I didn’t see how I had the right to complain about losing a leg. I had a lot of doubts, for sure. I didn’t know how it would be. I didn’t know any amputees. I didn’t know what a prosthesis was like, if it was gray, if it was beige … Mine today is sparkly, right? But I didn’t know. I didn’t know if I was going to be OK, how everything would be, but I resolved not to suffer in anticipation. I said, “Let’s face it a day at a time. Let’s see how I am. I can only be thankful right now. Let’s not think about tomorrow.” And that’s how it all happened. Even in the midst of so much uncertainty, I still had so many things I was sure of.
Each day I was in the hospital, I thought and said, “Wow, this is nothing compared to my life. What’s losing a leg, seeing that I’m here, and I have everyone that I love? I could have died without having said goodbye to anyone.” This gave me much strength during my recovery, and my recovery wasn’t easy. I thought that I would just go there, get the prosthesis, and walk out.
And I was frightened because, in addition to the pains that I already felt, the phantom pain, it was difficult to balance and walk with a prosthesis, and it hurt a lot. I wanted so much to walk. So, I would get home, crazy to take off the prosthesis, and I’d leave it on. I’d keep it on the whole day, and so, quickly, I began walking again. Little by little, I was doing the things I’d done before. It was really cool because, in my twenties, I could relearn to do things that I had never thought about, like, for example, walking. I’d never stopped to think that our arm accompanies our leg or that when we go up a ramp, our trunk has to accompany our body.
This was very special and valuable for me. I said, “Thank you for letting me see these incredible things and for giving so much value to things that, until my twenties, I thought were so small, right?” So, I went back to doing everything I did before and started to do things I’d never done before, like dancing, surfing, skateboarding … Each day, I was inventing something new. I committed myself, “I won’t drop the ball, I’ll stay strong. I want to surprise myself and everyone around me,” and I thought it was possible.
All this was possible thanks to four lessons that I took with me every day and that played a fundamental role in all this. My first lesson was don’t overvalue what isn’t essential for you. This could have a variety of interpretations, right? But two, I think, are very important. The first theme I want to talk about is problems. Everybody has problems; everybody is struggling with a problem now or has enormous problems at home. We don’t need to put such a large importance on them. We can simply choose how we want to face these problems. They don’t need such great importance. You don’t need to lose the whole day stressed out and angry about this problem. Let it have lower importance.
A second thing we overvalue is beauty. So, until I was 20, I was always focused on the body, right? We always want a better body. There we are working out, exercising, “I’m so unhappy with a little extra fat.” When something like this happens, when we suffer an accident, when we see that we could have lost our life, we say, “My God, what nonsense! Why was I giving this so much importance? This is nothing!” We all have imperfections; this is how life is. It’s much cooler to have a different nose, a little fat, a body type – Imagine if everybody were the same. It would be so boring, right? I have great pride of my leg, of my scar, of all this, of the purple that I have on my knee, because this is telling my story. Here is my story, what I went through, my trials, my tribulations. I think people should think more about this instead of always wanting to get better and better and better.
The second lesson that I took for my life is that, if you have an idea, whatever it is, or a dream, go after it because it may be your last chance. When I suffered my accident – I have two little examples that are small but really make the point. When I suffered my accident, I had just taken a break from my college administration course – I had completed a year and a half – but my dream had always been to do journalism. I didn’t do journalism because it was difficult to find work. It was a complicated profession.
So, I was trying, but uncertain about administration. I was doing a little course. Two days after my accident, I said, “My God, I have to do journalism, now. It’s my dream and what I love! I would have died at 20 without doing what I love! I would have spent all the days of my life without doing what I love, worried about what return I would get. What’s the sense of this? I want to be happy!” And it was something I was very certain about.
The second little example is a very curious thing. The first thing that I wanted to do after my accident was get a tattoo. Nobody understood, “How come? She has so much to do. Why does she want to get a tattoo?” Just before my accident, I had wanted to get a tattoo. I said, “I’m not doing it. I’m really young, and I’ll certainly regret it in the future.”
Later I said, “My God, look how many things I wouldn’t do because of a silly fear of being sorry.” So I went, with the two crutches, no prosthesis yet, to the tattoo parlor and got three at one time. (Laughter) I already have ten and don’t know when I’ll stop. This little gesture – This, for me, represented a lot because it represented freedom. I was imprisoned by the things I was afraid to do for fear of being sorry, and when I saw that life is so fragile, I said, “I can’t do this. Let’s enjoy it.”
My third lesson, which is super important for me, is about fear. Fear is always with us. Everyone has fears. Fear is a totally individual thing. Some people are afraid of losing someone; others are afraid of some animal. After my accident, I developed great fear: one was of cars – I had fear, I lost the notion of space – but the biggest was of flying, and it was a panic too.
It is difficult to explain to someone who, maybe, has never suffered this. My hands would sweat, I’d feel sick, I’d cry … It was so difficult for me. Then, my first job was away from Belo Horizonte – they invited me for a fashion show in São Paulo. At the same time that I was very happy, “My God, my fashion show. How will all this go?” I said, “I think that I won’t go. I’ll make up an excuse. I’ll say that I’m sick because I’m so afraid. I’m sensing something bad. I don’t think it’ll work.” I spent a week thinking about not going, and then, I decided to go. It was very important for me because going was what gave me the kick-start that set me free, what made it possible for my life to be what it is today. I travel weekly.
Sometimes, I travel several times a week. I take international flights by myself. None of this would have been possible, none of this would have happened if I had let my fear defeat me that day. I say that maybe I’ll have fear for the rest of my life, but I can always choose how I face my fear, how I deal with my fear. There is a phrase that I always take with me: “Courageous isn’t the one who has fear, it’s the one who has fear and still does it anyway.” This is in all aspects of our lives: fear of risk, fear of change, fear of changing jobs, changing homes …
This takes me to my last lesson which, for me, is the most important and may summarize everything. It’s about change. Changes happen all the time. Time is passing. Someone shakes a hand, a head, and there are all sorts of changes: big changes, small, good, bad, some that we choose and some that we don’t. What we’ll always be able to choose is how we react to these changes. I lost my leg. It wasn’t a change that I chose. It was something that happened to me. At that moment, I was dealing with a fact. Nothing I was going to do would bring back my leg. Nothing. I had lost it. I could be sad and ask, “Why me, right when I was going on a trip?” or I could say, “Let’s see what’s awaiting me, see what this life and this world are going to be like.”
This is really cool, and this changes everything. I’m certain that if I hadn’t faced my change with optimism, I wouldn’t be here today, and maybe my life would be totally different from what it is today. In addition to these four lessons, something else started to be important, “I want to stay close to my family, my friends, at home. I value them so much.
Wow, I see how valuable our lives are. I want to enjoy every little second, but, at the same time, I’m traveling more than normal, and I’m spending more time with strangers than with the people I love. Why am I doing all this? For what?” What motivates me and has motivated me until now is knowing I can help people. I can help so many people that are in the same situation as me, and people that aren’t, people that are only needing maybe a little stimulus to live freely and accept themselves. This motivates me every day. I have so many plans. I have so many things that I still want to do.
When I suffered my accident, I said, “I don’t know why this happened.” Everybody would say something different. I don’t know, but I want to take this as a mission. I want to take this awful thing, as many people consider this accident, an awful thing that happened to me, and turn it into the mission of my life. I want to make this a true purpose, and that’s why I am here. And you? What are you doing with the difficult moments in your lives? Thank you. (Applause)