By Karen Grattage @KarenGrattage
Scroll down for the full story
Videographer / Director: Victor Buhler
Producer: Victor Buhler
Editors: Steve Clark, Bill Ogden
Devout Mormon Melinda Bird was born with sacral agenesis, a rare condition that caused her spine to stop growing at the bottom of her ribcage, leaving the lower part of her body compressed.
Doctors predicted she would never sit up or talk, but now 40-year-old Melinda counts quad biking, boating, surfing and shooting among her hobbies.
And recently she embarked on her most daunting venture yet when she joined the dating scene.
The government admin worker, from Utah, USA, has never been kissed - and hadn’t been on a date in twenty years.
But now she is taking the Mormon-dating scene by storm in her quest to find love.
Melinda – who walks on her hands and uses a wheelchair - said: “My condition means my top half is normal, even though my bottom half stopped growing.
“But I’ve never let my disability get in the way of enjoying life. I love being active and have a great group of friends.
“The one thing missing in my life is a boyfriend. I’d like to find somebody and fall in love.
“I also think I’m judged for my disability. People assume they’ll have to look after me, they don’t realise how independent I am.”
Melinda’s faith also means she is keen to settle down and she can feel like an outcast in the Mormon community because of her single status.
While she is physically capable of having children, she fears that her biological clock is ticking and she is keen to have a family or adopt.
Melinda said: “I was raised in the church so the church is very important to me. It’s a big part of my life. In a way, you kind of feel left out a little bit if you’re not married.
“There has to be a guy out there for me.”
Melinda grew up with her mum Carol, dad Pat and older brother Monty, now 44.
She said: “My parents didn't know I had sacral agenesis before I was born.
“My mum always told me knew something was wrong because the pregnancy was different from when she carried my brother – he moved around a lot more.”
Carol and Pat’s excitement at the birth gave way to despair when they were told that their baby had the condition - which affects one in 25,000 births - and wouldn’t live to be a toddler.
But despite the grim prognosis, Melinda exceeded all expectations.
She said: “By the age of three I started shuffling around on my bum to get around, then I learnt to walk on my hands.
“Doctors offered me prosthetic legs, but I didn’t want them, I preferred walking on my hands.”
She enjoyed an active childhood with brother Monty and never noticed any differences between them in terms of what they could do.
And as she grew older, Melinda refused to let her disability hold her back, learning to drive and living independently - but never met that special someone.
It wasn’t until the death of her parents in recent years that Melinda started to consider her life and what it meant to be alone.
She said: “I feel like my life is very full. I have a wonderful family that’s very supportive, friends, I have a nice home and I live in a beautiful area.
“I think the one big thing that’s missing in my life is just that special guy.
“I would like to find somebody and fall in love.”
Melinda started her search by uploading a profile to a dating website, but her quest for Mr Right proved more difficult than she anticipated.
She said: “I think I’m attractive to the opposite sex, I’ve had people tell me I’m beautiful. Does that translate into wanting to date? No.”
Disappointed Melinda received no hits on her dating profile but, undeterred, she enlisted the help of Mormon dating professionals.
She said: “I thought maybe there was some areas I needed to improve on in myself and they can do that for me.
“I really think they’ll be able to help me find the best me."
Firstly the matchmakers sent Melinda for a makeover to improve her confidence and catch they eyes of potential suitors.
And after a shopping spree, a facial, a new hairstyle and new makeup, Melinda was raring to go on her first date arranged by the matchmakers.
A string of other dates followed, including a horse and cart ride, a trip to the aquarium, romantic dinners and even an indoor skydiving session.
Melinda even appeared on local TV to appeal for men to take her out and travelled 800 miles to a Mormon dating convention in California.
And although she is yet to find someone special, Melinda is starting to find her stride.
She said: “I think I’ve got better at dating. I still have my profile online and I’ve gotten more hits of late. I haven’t given up hope that someday it will happen.
“I’m romantic, I want to give all of myself to someone. There’s got to be somebody out there for me.”
Mormon Half Love is on Wednesday February 4, 10pm on TLC.