Feeling Monday blues? How about a story of incredible resilience from a woman, Verna Marzo, who overcame loss of limbs from Sepsis and STILL has her sights set on running a marathon. Nothing like a little #MondayMotivation
Verna Marzo is so adventurous that she swore to visit at least two countries per year. On one particular trip, the 45-year-old bungee jumped off Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, climbed Table Mountain in South Africa, and went cage diving off the coast to see great white sharks.
“Every country, I need to make sure I do something crazy,” she told Runner’s World by phone.
Life changing event
Marzo’s propensity to tackle these thrill-seeking challenges changed last spring, when she had both legs and arms amputated because of a medical condition that spiraled out of control. Now, some 18 months later, Marzo is coming to grips with her new reality and navigating the use of prosthetics. But that’s not all: she has set her sights on finishing a marathon.
It all began in January 2017 with an innocent trip to the local hospital in Calgary, Alberta, where Marzo lives and ran her own cleaning and interior design business. She had persistent stomach pain and was diagnosed with a routine case of endometriosis. But by mid-March the condition had worsened, such that she found herself undergoing a total hysterectomy.
After the surgery, disaster struck and severe sepsis set in, forcing doctors to remove Marzo’s large intestine and all four limbs. Marzo’s condition worsened as she fell into a coma, where doctors gave her a mere 2 percent chance of survival. She experienced brain clots, her hair fell out, and became temporarily paralyzed and blinded.
But Verna was a survivor. Surrounded by a dedicated support system of friends and family that called themselves “Team Verna”, Marzo began to recover. Her sight returned, as did the feeling in the remaining parts of her limbs, and her kidneys and brain suffered no lasting damage. Members of Team Verna brought her homemade meals, checked in with the doctors regularly, and sorted her medical bills. Finally, Verna got to go home.
“It was tough,” said Marzo’s sister, Debie, 41, of the long and challenging days in the hospital. “There was a point where my brain said ‘hard disk full.’ I couldn’t do it without the friends that we have around us.”
Marzo received her first set of prosthetics with the support of The War Amps, a Canadian non-profit that supports amputees. Marzo then began a long and arduous process of re-calibrating even the most basic of motor skills.
“I feel like a baby learning to do everything all over again; walking, eating, brushing, picking up a phone call, typing a text message,” Marzo wrote online. “But I am growing, developing, and taking steps one day at a time. It has not been easy, but I make progress every day; with determination and dedication, it is possible.”
Still chasing adventures
But Marzo’s adventurous personality couldn’t be bottled up – she continues to set high goals for herself. Already she is back to regular exercise on a stationary bike and treadmill. She has also finished a 5K race surrounded by Team Verna, and wants to return to running charity races, something she’s extremely passionate about. Her next goal? She wants to run a marathon. “I want to challenge myself,” Marzo said. “I want to know what my limit is.”
Marzo has met the challenges in front of her with dogged determination and enthusiasm, where recently she even won a dance contest put on by CTV Calgary and received VIP tickets to meet and do an in-studio interview with Ellen Degeneres. It was a surreal moment for Verna — watching Ellen’s show helped get her through the long, painful days in the hospital.
The next step for Marzo is securing a pair of extremely expensive running blades, for which she’s currently fundraising. Being the adventurous person she is, Marzo’s current leg prosthetics are too heavy for the arduous activities she’s seeking out. Running blades would be a game changer.
I know there is still hope, there are still adventures in the future
Despite her incredible progress and overwhelmingly positive attitude, the journey hasn’t been easy. Marzo has always been very independent, and is something she’s had to let go with all the help she now needs to live and grow. And even her determined spirit can falter at times. The night before her 5K race, Marzo was overcome with frustration and contemplated giving up running altogether. But Debie convinced her older sister into renewing her determination
“Asking for help is hard for her,” she said. “But as time goes, she’s really good about appreciating things and fighting in the present and saying no, I don’t want to be sad, I just want to inspire other people.”
Discovering a greater purpose
Following her amputations, Marzo has been a source of inspiration for many. She’s spoken publicly about her story and hopes to do more of it. She serves as a reminder to patients when she visits in nearby hospitals that they can push through their tough times, just as she did. Additionally, she’s already begun writing a book about her lived experiences.
“If I find that I have the opportunity to encourage other people struggling with disability, then I should speak out,” Marzo said.
Despite the adversity she’s faced and more than enough motivation from her own circumstances, Marzo’s marathon attempt has others at the foundation. Her main motivation to complete the marathon is to honor a close friend who recently died in a hiking accident. Finishing the race would be the perfect way to honour her former travel companion.
“I know there is still hope, there are still adventures in the future,” she said. “It’s just being creative with the things I have, to maximize them, and that’s how I live right now.”