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Positive attitude through health challenges

Despite the obstacles she has faced throughout her life, Joanna Blundell is only looking forward.

“I don’t have time to look backward,” said Blundell, a 57-year-old resident of Ore City. “I always try to be positive and move forward.”

Diagnosed at age two with cerebral palsy, a group of disorders that affect a person's ability to move and maintain balance and posture, Blundell speaks highly of the doctors who have cared for her. “I have been blessed to receive care from some of the best doctors,” she said.

“I was admitted to the hospital in Galveston and had my first surgery when I was two. Afterward, my parents always encouraged me to face the problems I had, as anything is possible with God.”

This positive attitude stuck with Blundell and left an impression on her two children.

“Mama never let her disability affect her,” said Blundell’s son Troy who lives in East Tennessee. “I’ve never seen her get down or mope about how things are. She always has a positive outlook.”


Blundell was diagnosed with arterial stenosis, also known PAD, at the age of 53.

Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) is the narrowing and blockage of the arteries that carry blood from the heart to the legs. The blockage is caused by atherosclerosis, a buildup of fatty plaque in the arteries.

The blockages were so severe in Blundell’s left leg that doctors advised her that the best solution would be to amputate the leg.

Over time, Blundell also developed problems with her right leg. When she couldn’t stand the pain any longer, she agreed to have her right leg amputated as well.

Blundell’s type of cerebral palsy impacts her balance, which affected both the type of prosthetic leg she could use and required that both surgeries would be “above the knee” amputations.

For the next couple of years, she used a wheelchair, enlisting the aid of many to help her stay in her own home.

Blundell’s daughter Kristin, who lives in Kilgore, Texas grew up seeing the determination in her mother.

“After her second amputation, everyone wanted her to go to her sister’s house or a rehab center, but Mom wanted to go home. She learned how to transfer herself in and out of her wheelchair and she thrived,” said Kristin. “If she has her mind set on doing something, she’s going to do it!”

Eventually, the wounds from the surgery healed, so she was fitted with a steady prosthetic that changed her height from 5’ 7” to 3’ 7” tall.


Undeterred by her height, Blundell immediately began rehabilitation sessions to learn new ways to walk, get up off the floor, and walk up and down steps. She had to begin her training in her wheelchair, as crutches and walkers are not manufactured for her height.

Coming to her aid was Kenneth Huffman, Plant Operations Director for UT Health North Campus Tyler. In less than an hour, Huffman modified a pair of standard crutches for Blundell, which she then used to walk the length of the gym. In that short period of time, Huffman drastically improved Blundell’s quality of life.

The therapists themselves were a big inspiration for Blundell. “They pushed me a lot and inspired me to keep going,” she said. In return, her hard work inspired many of the staff. “We have had the privilege to work with someone who showed us what true grit is all about,” said one of the staff members.

With the help of daily visits from home healthcare providers, Blundell learned new routines to continue to live by herself at home, including dressing, self-care and standing for long periods of time to cook. Blundell also learned another important lesson: it’s okay to ask for help.

“I have family and friends who are part of my life on a daily basis,” she said. “They may come by and bring me a plate of food or help me take a shower. If it wasn’t for these folks, I would not be able to live on my own.”

Positive outlook

In addition to her friends, Blundell recalls two people who motivated her to keep a positive outlook going forward.

“My sister Joni, who lives in Mesquite, Texas has been there for me throughout my life, pushing me and telling me it’s going to be okay,” she explained.

“She was the one who inspired me to record videos of my workouts. By looking at how I work out, we could evaluate my movements in a constructive way and see what I can do better.”

Blundell also credits Tyrone Miller, DO, the vascular surgeon who performed her amputations.

“Dr. Miller was a big inspiration to me. “Before my surgeries, he said, ‘This is going to be one of the hardest things in your life. Are you ready for it?’

“He helped me understand how hard it was going to be, but he also said that everything is possible with God. It’s the same thing that my Dad kept telling me growing up,” Blundell recalled.

Blundell hopes that others with cerebral palsy or amputations will read her story and watch her videos for their own inspiration.

“I would tell everyone to hold your head up, be strong and face your problems directly,” she said. “If I can do it, you can too!”

“Life is what you make it, so you can make it through the tough times too. If I can help one person and give back because so many people helped me, then I have done my job on this earth.”


For more information about the services offered at UT Health East Texas Rehabilitation Center, call 800-338-7293 or visit our website.