Environmental Factor, March 2006, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
WRAL Features Stella Sieber
By Colleen Chandler
If ever there was an example of someone who makes the most of a given situation, it is Stella Sieber.
This stalwart woman has undergone life-altering experiences that most people can't even imagine. From these difficult times, she has emerged as determined as ever to reach out to people in need. Sieber was featured Feb. 21 on WRAL TV's morning feature, "Ordinary People Doing Extraordinary Things" and in the January/February 2006 issue of inMotion, a publication for amputees.
She is featured on the WRAL blog at: http://html.wral.com/sh/blogger/wralextraordinary.html.
Until the night of July 29, 2001, when she pulled onto the side of a freeway in the rain to help a stranger who had crashed, Sieber was, perhaps, just an average person. She was active in her church and was planning a mission trip to Haiti. But that trip had to be postponed. That night, a car on the highway struck Sieber as she stood at the back of her car, pinning her between the cars. She suffered extensive injuries, and as a result of the crash, both legs were amputated.
Sieber, a research biologist in the microarray group at NIEHS, was the first bilateral amputee to be treated at Duke University Medical Center, she said. She and the staff that treats her are learning together, but she said it is nice to know that the knowledge learned from her treatment will help others in the future.
Since the accident, Sieber has had to learn to adapt physically and mentally. Acceptance and adaptation are key to moving forward, she said. "You either accept it, or be bitter," she said. But Sieber didn't simply accept it, she has become a role model and pillar of support for other amputees. She volunteers to be on-call for a support group for amputees. She answers questions as well as offers encouragement and support. Through the support group, she said, people can "see that we're living, doing things. We're okay," Sieber said.
Since the amputations, Sieber has learned to walk on platforms and is working her way up to high-tech artificial legs. Sieber smiles as she describes an accomplishment last year, when, using her platforms and hiking poles, she completed a one-mile hike in the North Carolina mountains. She has learned to use a hand cycle to bike, and has applied for a grant from the Challenged Athlete Foundation to purchase one.
Last February she trained to teach life skills to amputees as part of the Promoting Amputee Life Skills, a study funded by NIH that is expected to release results in March. Six months ago, she volunteered to go to Baton Rouge to help with the disaster response to Hurricane Katrina. She worked in a donation center, organizing food, clothing and personal hygiene products. She assisted at the American Red Cross Distribution Center, which provided temporary housing and meals for hurricane victims. She also worked at a donation center in Slidell as evacuees began to return.
Sieber's journey has not been easy by any means, but along the way, she said, she has come to terms with who she is -- just exactly as she is. She laughs. "It freed me up to laugh, to laugh just the way I laugh." Instead of considering the accident that changed her life to be a tragedy, she said she feels she has been given a second chance to live.
She considers herself fortunate that she has a lot of support from the people around her in her personal life, her church and at work. At NIEHS, she has flexibility of work hours that allow her to continue physical therapy and daily exercise routines, and many people donated leave, she said.
Not to be deterred, Sieber still intends to take that mission trip to Haiti.