A Florida teenager born with no arms has become an accomplished Junior Reserve Officer cadet.
Donavia Walker, 16, was born with a rare condition that caused her to not develop her upper limbs in the womb.
From a young age she had to learn to use her feet to do everything from homework to answering her phone to driving.
Now, the high school student from Winterhaven is a squad commander on the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC), and says she hopes to inspire others with disabilities by showing they too can accomplish anything.
Donavia Walker, 16 (left and right), from Winterhaven, Florida, was born with a condition known as amelia, which is when one or more limbs is missing. Despite being born with no arms has become an accomplished Junior Reserve Officer cadet
Her mother, Tisa Jones, said medical staff did not inform her that her daughter had not developed arms in the womb. Pictured: Donavia using her phone with her feet
When Tisa Jones was pregnant, medical staff did not inform her that her daughter had not developed arms in the womb.
‘I felt betrayed, like nobody told me nothing,’ Jones said. ‘I’m feeling like the person who did the ultrasound should have known.’
After she was born, Donavia was diagnosed with amelia, a rare condition in which one or more limbs doesn’t form.
The cause is unknown but the limb formation process is usually prevented or interrupted very early, between 24 and 36 days after fertilization.
It is unknown how many people have the condition because most affected infants are stillborn or die shortly after birth.
Although it may be present as an isolated defect, amelia is associated with other malformations 50 percent of the time, according to the National Institutes of Health.
This includes cleft lip and/or palate, internal organ protrusion, a herniated diaphragm, small kidney and lung defects.
Luckily for Jones, Donavia was born without any other major defects, but the first-time mother was still shocked.
‘When Donavia was born I saw these different nurses and doctors, they just ran in the room,’ she said.
‘I’m asking my mom and my aunt: “What’s wrong with her?” and then I took a glance over and I saw one of her arms were missing.
‘I’m like: “She is missing an arm” and that’s when [the doctor] tells me she is missing both of them.’
Donavia quickly started developing techniques to perform everyday tasks. She mostly uses her feet and scoots on her buttocks to get around instead of crawling. Pictured: Donavia doing homework with her feet, left, and brushing her teeth with her feet, right
The teenager has even taught herself how to drive with her feet. She uses her right foot for the steering wheel and her left foot for the accelerator and brake pedals. Pictured: Donavia washing dishes with her feet
At a young age, Donavia quickly started developing techniques to perform everyday tasks – mostly using her feet – and scoots on her buttocks to get around instead of crawling.
‘It really didn’t affect her life because the way she does stuff, everything comes to her naturally,’ Jones said.
‘She taught herself to draw, she actually can tie other people’s shoes, she feeds herself, she takes herself to the bathroom. I’m still trying to figure out how, but she does it.’
Donavia has even taught herself how to drive with her feet. She uses her right foot for the steering wheel and her left foot for the accelerator and brake pedals.
‘People would put me down because they didn’t think I could do as much as I can,’ Donavia said.
‘They would tell me: “You can’t hold it, you have to use your hands to hold it” or “You can’t get that, you gotta use your hands to get it.”
‘And I was like, “I can get it with my feet. I will find a way”.’
The teenager also played football at her school for three years and even becoming part of the cheerleading squad.
But it’s in the JROTC program where Donavia has really shone, leading her platoon in drill competitions and taking part in activities such as archery and rock climbing.
Donavia (second from the left) is now a squad commander who leads her platoon in drill competitions and takes part in activities such as archery and rock climbing
She hopes to inspire others with disabilities to show them that there are sill able to lead full lives and love themselves. Pictured: Donavia, third from left, with her squad
Donavia’s instructor, Sergeant Major Rudy Carter, who is retired from the US army, says she has inspired him over the three years he has trained her.
‘I remember the first day she walked through the door…I had high hopes for her and she hasn’t disappointed,’ he said.
‘Every day that I see her walk through my classroom is a day that I realize that when I get up in the morning there is nothing that should limit me or nothing should hold me back.
And that motivation has extended to Donavia’s friends and fellow JROTC members.
‘Donavia is like an inspiration to me because she has done so much without her arms, ‘ said JROTC cadet Yazmine Hadley.
‘It kind of shows me that I shouldn’t have an excuse as to why I can do certain things.’
For now, Donavia is focused on graduating high school and passing her final driving test, and is intent upon inspiring others along the way.
‘I would say to anyone with a physical condition that you should love yourself and find people who make you feel comfortable with yourself,’ she said.