Growing up in Hawaii is just different. Though considered the 50th state of the United States, it’s a different culture entirely than what you’ll find on the “mainland.” Concepts of time, regard for the natural world and relationship between family and friends carry the unique aura of “aloha” that makes this most secluded part of the world so unique.
In many ways, its geographical isolation sets it apart in a deeper way from the rest of the world – and it shows in its lifetime inhabitants. Lauren Washington carries that with her and you’ll know it the moment you meet her.
The island of Oahu is home to Lauren and her family – and has been that way for generations. But despite the laid back “island vibe” of Hawaiian lifestyle, things haven’t been that easy for Lauren’s family over the last decade. A casual beach day with family turned heavy when her husband fractured his neck and was temporarily paralyzed in 2010. Her father passed away in 2017. And in 2022, Lauren landed in the hospital for a single kidney stone that would turn into a worst-case-scenario and result in the amputation of all four of her limbs just a few months ago.
“I never doubted the support that I’d get from my family,” says Lauren. “But it’s been my friends coming through that has been the most surprising.”
But if you meet her, it might not be so hard to fathom. Friends, family and even old neighbors have been flying back and forth to her current recovery center in Texas to help with everything from getting to appointments to personal hygiene. But despite the way that her Ohana surrounds her now, it wasn’t always that way. Due to pandemic restrictions into 2022, Lauren spent much of her initial hospitalization alone. Despite that, she has a positive outlook on that season.
“It turned out to be a blessing,” said Lauren. “I was able to process all of the rough stuff without the pressure of having to manage how everyone else would react to it. I was glad to have that to myself.”
Because her husband serves in the military and on the good fortune that space was available, Lauren is currently in one of three state-of-art facilities of its kind called the Center for the Intrepid. Located at the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, the Center is a highly specialized recovery center that was originally built to rehabilitate servicemen returning from the war in Afghanistan.
Its highly efficient system that integrates communications between surgeons, orthopaedics, prosthetics, physical therapy and case management makes it ideal for someone in Lauren’s position, but it’s an unfortunately rare model.
She hopes that this can become the standard of care for others with limb loss and differences and already has her sights set on being the one to make that difference.
“[This experience] has opened my eyes to this whole world of need and I know that this happening to me will allow me to reach a different group of people that I didn’t know I could have an impact on,” said Lauren. “I’ve never been one to question why things happen and I’ve always been the type of person to act in service, so I haven’t really lost the vision for my future.”
“I’m still going to live a really beautiful and fulfilled life, I just need to figure out how I’m going to do things a bit differently now.”
Lauren got fitted with her first prosthetics this February, and has been navigating her new sense of mobility ever since. With three young kids at home, Lauren says that there’s a lot of new things to learn as a mom and wife. She’d like to get into real estate and emphasize the need for more ADA accessibility and she’d like to advocate for the improvement of Hawaii rehabilitation services for cases such as hers. Her aspirations overflow with an air of hope and confidence with the breeze of native Aloha.
When it comes to the purpose she’s found through her difficulties, Lauren is straightforward. She rhetorically asks, “What’s the point of living if you’re not going to be doing anything for other people?”. And that seems like the point that we should all remember, no matter our story.