Kristan Seaford, a 42-year-old Charlotte mother of five, was an avid runner, a fitness instructor and a counselor back in 2012 when she came down with a bad case of the flu. It was so bad it led to septic shock, which got so bad that she almost died. She spent 100 days in the hospital, was in a medically induced coma, and to save her, doctors had to amputate both her hands, her left leg and part of her right foot. Now she has robotic hands and a prosthetic leg and foot, and through it all, she’s managed to stay upbeat and has become an inspiration to fellow amputees and non-amputees alike. In fact she’s now an in-demand motivational speaker. Today, we’re excited to introduce you to the inspiring Kristan Seaford, our newest FACE of Charlotte.
How do you describe what happened?
I got strep throat and the flu, and the strep bacteria got into my blood. The infection attacked all of my organs, and one by one they shut down. I almost died, but through a miracle I lived. But the cost to all of that was that my limbs were compromised, and my hands and feet didn’t receive oxygen, so my hands and feet essentially died and had to be amputated.
What’s been the most surprising thing?
I think the most surprising thing is all that I can still do and all the things that I’ve gotten to do not despite what happened to me, but because of what happened to me. Some doors have been shut to me, but so many doors have been opened. I’ve gotten to go on trips from New York to Colorado to Lake Tahoe and talk to people about what happened to me. I’ve gotten to enjoy some amazing activities — downhill skiing, paddleboarding and kayaking and biking down the Tahoe River. I just got a grant for a custom road bike. All of these things are scholarships that I’ve applied for and won. All of these things are now available to me, and I’ve met some of the most amazing people who I would never have been in the same room with if this hadn’t happened to me — so many people who have conquered amazing obstacles in their lives.
You’ve been doing a lot of motivational speaking. What is that like?
That is so fun, I found out I have this hidden joy in talking to people in groups — who knew?! But I really love a microphone, and I found out I’m pretty good at it! That’s something else I never would have found out about myself. I’ve spoken to groups of 2,000 people, everyone from students to high-level executives, and I really just enjoy every bit of it.
You’re also getting back into counseling?
I just started in private practice as a licensed professional counselor. I had not been practicing for about eight years while I was staying home with the kids. I have a few clients so far and it’s growing — I have an office in downtown Matthews, and it’s really exciting.
What’s your takeaway message through all of this?
There is hope. Whatever your circumstances, there is hope. And that we all have struggles — some are physical, some are invisible to others, which is oftentimes harder than when you have a physical disability, but through perseverance and through accepting and asking for help when you need it, you can do anything.
You also manage to see the funnier side of life. Tell us about some of the funnier moments that have happened as a result of your prosthetics.
My prosthetic hands are robotic. I can open and close them, but they seem to break a lot — about once every couple of weeks. Sometimes that presents some humorous moments. One time I had gone grocery shopping, and I was in the store and pushing the cart, and all of a sudden I realized my right hand had stopped working and it had died and was stuck around the handle of the grocery cart. I was literally stuck to the cart. I called my husband and he said “I’m on a conference call,” and I was like, “No, honey. You don’t understand, I’m literally stuck to the cart.” This has happened so many times. It got stuck on my car door twice. I took my arm out of it — it was funny to see this random hand sticking out of the car.
What’s your approach to life?
You have to laugh. If you don’t laugh, you’re going to cry, and I am choosing to laugh. Certainly I have my days just like anyone else, but for the most part, I have a dark sense of humor. I always have, but my husband says I’m funnier since I got disabled because I have a lot more material. I just choose it.
What’s your best piece of advice?
Ask for help. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You don’t get an extra blue ribbon for doing it by yourself. In the beginning it was very difficult for me because I’ve always been the one who helps others, but I’ve come to understand accepting help is actually a gift to the person helping you.
Aside from faith, family and friends, what are the three things you can’t live without?
Coffee, my iPad and my car because of the independence it gives me.
Thank you, Kristan, for sharing your inspiring story with us today. And thank you to Piper Warlick of Piper Warlick Photography for the beautiful photos.
Meet more amazing Charlotte women in our FACES section.