SO JANNELLE!: Quad amputee Karen Crespo and The Theory of Anything is Possible

Karen models a Carrie Hammer design for working women.

Karen models a Carrie Hammer design for working women during New York Fashion Week.

By Jannelle So

It’s only the second week of January and already, Karen Crespo’s black book is filled with business appointments, media interviews, and speaking engagements. No surprise there as her 2014 calendar had been pretty busy.

“If you told me a few years ago that I would find myself in this position, I would have laughed at you and thought you were crazy,” said the quadruple amputee whom I met in 2013 and reconnected with recently. Last year, she stunned the fashion community when she walked the New York Fashion Week runway with the help of designer Carrie Hammer.

“Walking during New York Fashion Week was definitely the turning point for me,” she said. “Before that I felt like I was lost and I didn’t know what my purpose was. Now I know that my purpose is to be a role model and inspire others. Because of that one event I felt like anything is possible.”

In a previous chapter, Karen was a pretty nurse having the time of her life. She was loving her job serving others, spending time with friends, going out on dates, and traveling to exotic places for vacation. She was, like any other single lady, very up-to-date on fashion.

All that changed in December 2011 when she found herself battling meningococcal meningitis, a rare form of bacterial infection.

The columnist with Karen

The columnist with Karen

“I felt very tired. I had uncontrollable diarrhea. My feet were cold; and when I bent down to put on socks, I couldn’t move my neck. It was so stiff,” she recalled in our interview.

As a nurse, her strongest hunch was meningitis.

“I was very sure. They emphasized it so much in nursing school, stiff neck and meningitis. Not too many people know about it. But it’s very serious,” she said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, anywhere from 5 percent to 20 percent of the population may carry the bacteria that cause meningococcal meningitis. In most cases, they are dormant and do not spread around. One can be a carrier and not show any symptoms. But the bacteria may be passed on through saliva as in kissing, sharing food and utensils. When caught by someone with a weak or compromised immune system, it can turn deadly, says the CDCP.

For 15 days, Karen was in a medically-induced coma. When she woke up on Christmas Eve that year, all she could move was her head.

“It was a blessing because they didn’t even think I could make it,” Karen said.

The first few days after she woke up, she was questioning if it was indeed a blessing for her to be alive. The hospital’s intensive care unit was her home for five months. Aside from suffering two heart attacks, gangrene also took over her two arms and two legs, causing them to be amputated. She also lost her nose and a part of her ear.

“I had a hard time dealing with my body image. I was so embarrassed,” she bravely shared.

Time, as they say, heals all wounds. In 2013, she completed physical rehabilitation and psychological counseling to help her deal with her new life. A year later, she was preparing for her modeling appearance at the New York Fashion Week for Carrie Hammer, a brand that specializes in professional women’s clothing.

“Beauty comes in all shapes and sizes and there’s absolutely no right or wrong. I have a passion for fashion and I hope to show the world one day, people with disabilities (can) model,” she wrote to designer Carrie Hammer.

In November of 2014, Karen did a photo shoot for the “Fabulous Filipinas” calendar, featuring Filipino American personalities with inspiring stories to tell.

“It was a pleasure shooting a calendar for FilAms honoring our achievements in the community,” Karen said about this project of the Filipino American Press Club of California. “It’s so nice to represent those living with physical disability. It also gave me the opportunity to continue to inspire others, especially people living with some kind of disability.”

Also in 2014, Karen spoke at the National Meningitis Association conference in Atlanta sharing her story and providing information about the disease, the latest developments in research, and how to prevent it.

“This organization is near and dear to my heart because of the way bacterial meningitis affected me,” she said.

There’s no slowing down for Karen this year.

She was a recent guest on “The Mother Love” radio show on L.A. Talk Radio, where she talked about her experience in New York and how her arm prosthetics were stolen in 2013. Karen is jetting off to Berlin in the Spring to do a photo shoot for a talent agency there. She is also in talks with a Hollywood producer to do an eight-episode documentary series about her life as she embarks on a mission to renovate her house and make it accessible for people with disability. In Covina, California, she is slated to host a fundraiser in April to benefit a local CrossFit gym.

“I am working on public speaking so I can be a motivational speaker in the future or even write a book about my life,” she revealed. “I would really like to speak to different communities about my experience becoming an amputee and a meningitis survivor. Hopefully it will inspire others to never give up and live life to its fullest.”

Living life to the fullest. A great outlook for the new year.

As a young nurse in L.A. before meningococcal meningitis changed her life

As a young nurse in L.A. before meningococcal meningitis changed her life

She spent five months in a hospital and years of rehab and counseling: Is it really a blessing?

She spent five months in a hospital and almost two years of rehab and counseling: Is it really a blessing?

Jannelle So is taking a break from 20 years of print and broadcast journalism career that began in the Philippines and continued in the United States. She will be a starting a bi-monthly column for The FilAm. Jannelle is credited for creating, hosting and producing America’s first and only locally-produced daily talk show for Filipinos, that ran for 8 ½ years under her leadership, making ‘Kababayan L.A.’ the longest-running Filipino talk show outside of the Philippines. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram or email her at

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