A woman born with no arms, knees and just seven toes who was told she wouldn’t make her 18th birthday has revealed her joy at planning her wedding.
Jlissa Austin, 30, from Houston, Texas, stands at just three feet four inches tall and says she thought she was destined to be alone, until she met the love of her life, Johnathon Shorter.
The entrepreneur, who runs her own weave company, has defied all the odds stacked against her even learning to type and brush her teeth with her toes.
And the happy couple say they’re just like any other, with Jlissa’s disabilities not affecting their love life.
Jlissa Austin, 30, from Houston, was born with birth defects that left her with no knees, just seven toes and no arms. She’s found love with a close friend, Johnathan Shorter, something she says she thought would never happen
Jlissa says she feels lucky to have always had supportive friends around her – and says at school her peers treated her just like any other pupil
Independence: Doctors have never officially given Jlissa and her mother a diagnosis for her condition but she was told that she would never lead a ‘normal’ life
‘The word “can’t” is just not in my vocabulary. I am here today, being the person I was meant to be’ Jlissa pictured as a toddler
Jlissa and Johnathan, who is a five foot six inch-tall able-bodied man, share an apartment together in Houston and are currently planning their dream wedding for the summer.
Jlissa said: ‘Me and Johnathan are very good together. We’re so in tune.
‘I didn’t think it would ever happen to me – meeting someone like this. It feels so good to know that Johnathan is by my side.
‘When people see us walking around together, some of them shake Johnathan’s hand and say “I salute you, you’re doing a good job”. But we don’t experience issues with people judging our relationship too much thankfully.
‘We’re both really looking forward to our wedding, now.’
Johnathan mainly helps Jlissa with eating, getting in and out of cars and reaching things that are too high for her in their apartment.
Johnathan said: ‘Jlissa is a great person and a great friend. She is so lovable.
‘We are a complete team now. We met 13 years ago through mutual friends. We became friends at the start and then just grew to love each other.
Johnathon stand at five feet six, while his fiancee is just 3 feet four in height; the couple say Jlissa’s disablities have never stood in the way of their love life and that they only get positive comments when they’re out together
Jlissa’s mother Deborah, left, says she her daughter’s condition at birth was difficult to deal with, saying: ‘The first few days were very hard, but we managed to get through it’
She says that with a little help from Johnathan, there’s nothing she feels like she can’t achieve
Now the couple are planning their dream wedding this year, something that Jlissa says she once only dreamed of
‘When she first opened up about her condition, I just listened and I welcomed her with open arms.
‘It’s never mattered to me that she has no arms, or no hands, or that she’s small and her condition has never affected our love life. I just love her as a regular person and treat her like that.’
Jlissa’s symptoms were not aligned to a specific condition, doctors simply said that she would not experience a good quality of life.
I was really overwhelmed when I discovered her symptoms. The first few days were very hard, but we managed to get through it…
Deborah, Jlissa’s mother
She said: ‘I still haven’t been properly diagnosed. I don’t think I ever will be now.
‘It was just explained to my mother that I do not have knees, or arms and I have stunted growth.
‘They said I would never walk or live to see my 18th birthday. Here I am now, 30 years old and able to do so many things.’
Success: The 30-year-old runs her own successful weave business and can use technology with her toes, tapping out messages
Wedded bliss! The Houston couple are now plotting their wedding this summer
Jlissa, pictured as a youngster, was also told she might not make her 18th birthday
Jlissa’s mother, Deborah Austin, was more shocked than anyone to learn that her daughter was so physically impaired after birth.
Deborah said: ‘If anything, when I was pregnant with Jlissa, I thought she would come out with long legs because she was kicking so much.
‘I was really overwhelmed when I discovered her symptoms. The first few days were very hard, but we managed to get through it.
‘We then began to address how we were going to handle it in the future. We pushed through life and here we are now, happy together.’
Fortunately, Jlissa’s school life wasn’t filled with bullying from other children – she actually felt a lot of love during those years.
‘People treated me and loved me well during school. I didn’t experience any real bullying. Kids are just kids. But I think they loved me because I was like a little doll to them. It was a good time of my life.’
Jlissa now runs her own successful weave business and she has recently launched a new website for her many clients.
She feels settled and comfortable with her daily routine, doing the majority of things herself and with a little help from Johnathan, there’s nothing she feels like she can’t achieve.
‘The everyday tasks that I can still do; I brush my teeth, use my phone, work on a daily basis and go out and network myself. I can pick a lot of things up with my feet. On a good day, I am also able to take myself to the restroom.
‘The word ‘can’t’ is just not in my vocabulary. I am here today, being the person I was meant to be. I want to tell everyone to stay strong and be yourself. Never give up.
‘I’m really proud of myself and how far I have come.’