Most people don’t even notice that there is something different about Merlyna Adams.
She looks and acts like every other elementary school principal and is able to do all of her duties as well, if not better than other principals.
But upon second glance, some might notice that her hands aren’t moving quite normally or that she walks with a slight hitch. This is because Adams doesn’t have any hands or feet.
In 2007, Adams was enjoying a meet-and-greet at St. Rose Elementary School where she had been principal for two years. She felt a slight pain in her side and decided to visit the doctor to have it check out.
It turned out that her slight pain was actually a kidney stone that kept her in the hospital for three months with sepsis, which is life-threatening. A side effect of sepsis is decreased blood flow to the body’s limbs.
“They tried to save as much as they could,” Adams said.
But after nine months of questioning, Adams had to have her hands and legs below the knee amputated.
“For the next two years, it was just about recovery,” she said.
As soon as she had learned to use her new prosthetic hands and feet, Adams went back to school and took over again as principal of St. Rose Elementary.
“I knew I had a job to do. My determination was to get my life back. My district, St. Charles Parish, trusted me enough and believed in me – I can’t tell you how much that lifted my spirits,” she said. “I love what I do, I love the kids – it’s my passion. The best therapy I ever had was coming back to work. I have been able to do the job better than I did before.”
Despite her physical limitations, Adams said she never holds back or focuses on what she cannot do.
“I do not ever think about what task I can’t do…I ask if there is one more thing that I can do today,” she said. “I never say ‘what if’ or ‘why me.’ I just say it happened for a reason. There’s a plan for my life and all I can do now is embrace it and move forward. I have so many people who count on me.”
She said she has seen many of the 650 students at her school take inspiration from her and she knows that her life was saved for a reason.
“The upper-grade children really have internalized what happened to me,” she said. “They don’t see a disability at all, they only see possibilities. I think I’ve created a group of kids now that will be so accepting of disabilities.”
Besides inspiring her students and co-workers, Adams also mentors other people who have experienced limb loss and tries to set a good example for her 21-year-old daughter who is going through college right now.
“I found a strength that I didn’t even kn
ow I had,” she said. “I still have a lot of phantom pain – that’s daily for me, but no one would know. I deal with that in private.
“This change helped me to become a more inspirational person, a more determined person and a more faithful person.”
Adams, who is a Hahnville High graduate and life-long resident of the parish, said the entire community aided in her recovery and that even strangers would send her letters saying that she was in their thoughts.
“The support of this community truly helped me get through those hard times, and there were a lot of them,” she said. “I’m not going to waste this second chance at life.”
Her next hurdles are learning to use myoelectric hands, which will allow her to grip things, and learning to drive.
Right now, Adams said she is just focusing on improving on her job every day.
“I wake up thinking if there is some child or some situation that I can make a difference in today,” she said. “I think (educators) have the most important job in the world and that’s why I came back to finish it.”