'A lot of children thought they couldn’t go to college if they had a disability'
Despite serious disadvantages in health and home life, Misty Blue Foster is promoting independence wherever she goes
Misty Blue Foster lives in California but tells her life story around the world.
As a child with spina bifida and cloacal exstrophy (exposed abdominal organs), Ms Foster decided to be a nurse after she spent much of her childhood in hospital.
Her story isn’t just about growing up with disabilities and becoming a nurse. When she was five, Ms Foster’s mother passed away from an infective endocarditis as a result of a heroin overdose.
“I went immediately into foster care because I was an orphan and stayed until I was 18. It was not a good situation; it was kind of abusive,” she says.
Despite this, Ms Foster is happily married, studying for a degree in nursing (BSN) and working at a veterans’ hospital. She shares her inspiration with others who have disabilities.
In April, Ms Foster travelled to England with Courage to Shine, an organisation founded in Pennsylvania by Thomas Exler, president of the Association for the Bladder Exstrophy Community.
She visited Breakaway, a camp for children with bowel and bladder diversions and other dysfunctions, in Swadlincote, Derbyshire.
“We talked about growing up and going through school with a disability. They wanted to know ‘How do you manage going through gym or having to go to the bathroom?’ or ‘How do you deal with teasing or bullying? or ‘When I grow up do you think I can be like you - can I be a nurse, can I be a doctor?’,” she says.
“A lot of them thought they couldn’t go to college if they had a disability, which didn’t make any sense to me because you can do whatever you want. They never really knew life outside getting sick and going to the hospital, so they reacted positively because they felt hopeful for their futures.”
Since 2009, she has spoken at conferences in England, Iceland and Australia, as well as throughout the US.
Her desire to help people with special needs started when she was 14 and caring for her foster sister. At 18, she began her nursing career as a caregiver for people with developmental delays or special needs as she studied for her certified nursing assistant certificate.
She worked at various hospitals as a float certified nursing assistant while she studied for her licensed vocational nursing degree, and in cardiology for three years at a veterans’ hospital in Palo Alto, California.
After gaining her licence, she worked in rehab nursing at the veterans’ hospital then moved to the Western Blind Rehab Centre where she now works with veterans with polytrauma, post-traumatic stress disorder and spinal cord injury.
The veterans confide in her because she has similar disabilities.
“I find it very fulfilling to help them learn how to be as independent as possible so when they go home they feel like their former selves,” she says.
Looking ahead, Ms Foster plans to study for a master’s degree in nursing and work in nurse education.
“I can still use my licence and provide care but I also reach other nurses,” she says. “I would give conferences and presentations for the hospital, which I like doing.”
Ms Foster receives support from a nurse who cared for her as a child. “Petie is like my adoptive mom and I couldn’t wish for anyone better,” she says.
To Ms Foster’s surprise, her sister - who her foster family said was dead - contacted her two years ago. “She found me on Facebook. She was born when I was five and my mom died shortly after she turned one.”
When others ask how she can be happy after hearing her life story, she says: “My faith helps me a lot to deal with life and understand there’s nothing I can do about it. Just be happy and be thankful to be alive and to be able to help others.
“You can’t change what happens to you in life but you can change what you do about it. Be resilient and enjoy your life because you only have one.”