Student refuses to let disability define her

IUS Horizon

Lesley Kleise, undecided freshman, takes a break from studying for an upcoming math exam to do her nails.

When Lesley Kleise, undecided freshman, was born three-and-a-half months prematurely, she said she immediately underwent a serious of procedures.

These procedures left her with virtually no use of her left leg and limited use of her right hand.

By the time Kleise was in the second grade, she said she made the brave decision to have her left leg amputated with the hopes a prosthetic leg would provide her with increased mobility.

Kleise said she remembers the day when she told her mom she wanted to get her leg amputated.

“I remember the day perfectly because my brother and a couple neighborhood kids were all riding their bikes and I couldn’t ride a bike, so I just had to sit there and watch,” Kleise said.

For people going through similar situations or dealing with a disability of any kind, Kleise offered some motivational words.

“It sucks, but you’ll get through it eventually,” Kleise said. “You can’t let your disability define who you are.”

Kleise said, just because someone has a disability, that doesn’t mean they can’t do what they’ve always wanted to do.

“It just means you have to find a different way to do them,” she said.

Kleise said she considers Charlie Rudolph, her long-time mentor and fellow amputee, to be one of the most influential people in her life.

She said Rudolph has offered her guidance since she first began to consider having her leg amputated and feels very lucky to have him in her life.

“I remember when she took me to school with her for show-and-tell when she was just a little thing,” Rudolph said. “I’m here for her when she needs me — I’ve always told her that.”

To an individual with a disability, even seemingly simplistic things can present a challenge.

“I would scoot,” Kleise said. “I would sit on my butt and use my hands and good leg to push myself across the room, and then I’d pull myself up on a table.”

Rudolph said he advised Kleise to keep staying strong and to understand things won’t get better overnight.

“I’ve told Lesley it’s going to be a hard road all the way through, but, if you just keep on going, you will be able to do anything, just not as fast,” Rudolph said.

Kleise said she is used to people asking her about her disability.

“I give them the short version of it — not the long version,” Kleise said. “I’d rather them ask then stare. I hate when people stare.”

Kleise said she doesn’t feel like she has always had the respect and consideration she deserves.

“I’m disabled, but I’m still a human being that deserves the same respect and consideration as everyone else on the planet,” Kleise said.

Rudolph said he understands people aren’t very accepting but tries to show those kind of people are wrong.

“I know it’s a hard life because people don’t accept you really,” Rudolph said. “People say ‘Oh, you can’t do this. You can’t do that,’ and I’ve always pushed to prove them wrong and that’s the way I look at Lesley — she’s going to do the same thing.”

Kleise said she is fiercely independent and avoids asking for help and views it as a sign of weakness.

“It is like saying that my disability is winning,” Kleise said.

Kleise said she doesn’t want to be remembered as “that girl with the artificial leg” because it’s not who she is.

“It’s just a part of me,” Kleise said. “What you see isn’t always what you get, just because I’m disabled. I’m not going to let it stop me from doing what I want.”

Rudolph said he is proud of the young lady Kleise has grown up to be.

“She is a little girl that has had a hard life,” Rudolph said. “She’s been dealt a hard blow all the way through.”

Kleise offered some insight to make the campus easier to navigate for students with disabilities.

Kleise said the campus needs more elevators. With so few of them around campus, Kleise said she has to walk a long way to access them and has to wait for them because most buildings only have one.

Kleise also said it can be difficult for her to walk across campus and offers a suggestion.

“If there was a number to call so I could have someone come to get me with a wheelchair and take me to class, that would be helpful.”