Five years ago, Kristan Seaford, a mother of five, was a group exercise instructor and marathon runner. She never expected that today she would be a triple amputee.
Kristan Seaford, licensed professional counselor:
When all of this happened to me, I was 38 with five young kids.
It was the height of flu season that I got sick.
I kept going like I always do; moms don’t get sick days. I told my husband that I just really needed to stay home from church and rest and I asked him to please take the kids to church.
And we’re talking two hours later, they found their mom unconscious, unresponsive.
Once they got me to the hospital, they took a chest X-ray and it showed a pretty severe case of double pneumonia. That got into my blood, and they call that sepsis.
By Christmas, I was awake again. And while the doctors saved my life, they weren’t able to save my hands and my feet.
They took both hands. And they took one foot completely. On the other foot, I’m just missing my toes and a big chunk out of my heel.
The worst time was actually after I got home.
They would put me on the couch. And I knew that if I sat off to the side like that forever, I couldn’t be the mom that I wanted to be and I couldn’t be the person that I want to be and what kind of life would that be?
I worked hard. By May, I could walk a whole mile.
I was coming back to life. I was getting back some of my athleticism.
Getting back to work was extremely important for me. I’m a qualified counselor. I have a licensure in counseling.
I started entertaining the idea of well maybe I could be a counselor again. But I didn’t know whether people would take me seriously. I didn’t know how I was going to manage the papers. I mean frankly, I didn’t know how I was going to turn the lock in the door of an office.
I heard about this No Barriers thing. And so I went to this conference and I brought my whole family.
And I met so many amazing people and it wasn’t just the people with disabilities that were so great, it was the people without disabilities that were giving their whole lives to helping us. It gave me so much hope in our whole race.
I left there thinking that I could do this. And I wanted to be seeing 10 clients a week, which to me seemed huge at the time. If I was getting three or four clients, I was thrilled. Well I have 15 or 16 a week now. That’s just appointments, that’s not clients.
Oh, it fills my bucket. I feel like me again. And I never even would have tried had it not been for No Barriers.
I’m not just a great counselor despite my disabilities. I’m a great counselor because of my disabilities.
My name is Kristan Seaford. I am a wife, a mom of five, I’m an athlete, I’m a counselor, and I am an amputee.
“I got strep, which led to sepsis, which led to septic shock, which led to a triple amputation,” Seaford said. “It really was 3.5, because I lost half of my other foot, too.”
Seaford didn’t think she would ever return to the working world. She had been a counselor since 2001 but had taken time off to stay home with her children.
“I never in a million years thought I could make my dream come true of having my own private counseling practice,” Seaford said. “I always planned to go back to work when my kids started grammar school, and then — it’s such a joke when we make plans, right? But those plans got derailed, and I thought that part of my life was over. Then I found out about No Barriers.”
No Barriers USA has a mission to unleash the power of the human spirit through transformative experiences, tools, and inspiration. Each year, the organization hosts the No Barriers Summit, providing several days of speakers, innovations, and adaptive activities for veterans, youth from various backgrounds, and families learning to manage disabilities. Wells Fargo has been a sponsor of No Barriers USA since 2014 and has sponsored the summit since 2015.
During this year’s summit in New York City, Seaford joined leaders from Wells Fargo, Merck, and Ernst & Young and spoke at the Leadership in Business Workshop panel. The panel, held on Oct. 4, before the summit’s opening ceremony, was designed to explore challenges and solutions related to diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
“I know we’ve heard people say, the ‘No Barriers Summit changed my life,’ and it’s almost become trite because it has changed so many lives for the better,” Seaford said during the panel. “I am just one of those stories.”
After working hard to build up her strength again and use her prosthetics, Seaford attended last year’s summit in North Lake Tahoe, California, for the first time. She said the summit’s physical activities are what really attracted her to the summit, but she said there was an unexpected bonus.
“I met person after person that was successful in the corporate world and successful in the world of health care, and the list goes on and on, and that gave me hope,” Seaford said. “I’m very competitive, and I thought, ‘If they can do it, I can do it.’ And so I left the summit last June, and I started looking into ways that I could start my own counseling practice.”
Seaford decided against working at an agency because she said she felt like it would be harder than working for herself and she would have to explain a lot. So she opened her own practice. Her initial goal was to see 10 clients a week. “I’m happy to say that I’m seeing on average 16 clients a week,” she said, “and I’m loving every minute of it.”
Though her life has changed in the last five years, Seaford said she believes having a disability makes her better in her profession. “I am not a great counselor because I’m as good as any other counselor,” she said. “I’m a great counselor because of what I’ve been through. I’m a great counselor because of my disabilities.”