For Milwaukie resident Carissa Price, life as a toddler was extremely traumatic. Her heart was leaking blood, and she needed open heart surgery. She started having seizures, and just before her third birthday, she was diagnosed with meningococcal disease, which carries a high mortality rate if untreated.
"She was given pretty much no chance of survival," said Sarah, Carissa's mom. "She was so sick but kept plugging along and made a miraculous recovery."
Carissa suffered brain damage, had a high fever, and was put in a medically induced coma. Sarah said Carissa had a hard time coming out the coma, and doctors were not sure what her condition would be when she woke up.
"In spite of losing all of her limbs through this difficult time, she is so happy," Sarah Price. "She just loves life and is eager to do anything and meet people. She is a little fighter."
Now 23, Carissa turned 3 while in a coma, and her health concerns didn't end there. In 2011 she had a bowel obstruction and needed an ileostomy, a surgical procedure that is used when the lower part of the digestive system, the colon, is diseased or damaged and is not able to function normally.
Health issues didn't stop Carissa from attending public schools, participating in an adult transition program and being active. She joins others during Challenge Air where private airplane pilots at Aurora Airport give rides to kids and adults with special needs. Carissa also participates in Special Olympics and the Concordia Adaptive Sports Day where PE teachers in training put on a series of events. In March, Carissa will ski at Mount Bachelor with professional skiers who guide her down the hill. She uses a tri-ski, similar to a stroller with skis.
"She absolutely loves it," her mom said. "I can't watch. It scares me too much. But as long as Carissa enjoys it, that's all that matters."
After the adult transition program, Sarah Price struggled to find a day program for her daughter. That is until she found out about Exceed Enterprises' Community Enrichment and Learning Center (CELC).
"I can't say enough good things about Exceed. It is so wonderful. I knew this is where Carissa needs to go," Sarah Price said.
She observed that CELC staff are always engaged with clients, doing something fun, being productive, and no one sits in a corner by themselves. Sarah Price said that CELC is the perfect fit for Carissa because the center offers everything that Carissa enjoys. Carissa sings in the choir, loves going to the mall, riding TriMet, playing bingo and singing karaoke. Carissa also volunteers at the McLoughlin Place where she sings karaoke and exercises with the seniors.
Carissa even found a boyfriend at CELC.
"We took them on a date to Baskin-Robbins, and I asked Carissa if she was going to kiss Andy and she said, 'Ew, yuck,'" Sarah Price said.
What Carissa has gone through to get to this stage in her life has inspired those around her. Every day she has a smile on her face, loves the social interaction at CELC, and her mother has peace of mind knowing her daughter is safe and being taken care.