By Danny Baggott @Dan_Baggie
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Videographer / director: Andrew J Gonzales
Producer: Danny Baggott, James Thorne
Editor: Marcus Cooper
Jlissa Austin, 30, arrived into the world with doctors predicting that she would never learn to walk or lead a normal life.
To this day, Jlissa is unsure of what caused her abnormalities – but she has never let such things stop her in her tracks, learning to use her feet when conducting everyday tasks like brushing her teeth and texting on her phone.
Aside from the obvious hardships Jlissa deals with day-to-day, she still manages to run her own successful weave business and has a great support system, fronted by her fiancé, Johnathan Shorter.
Jlissa and Johnathan, who is a 5’6” able-bodied man, share an apartment together in Houston, Texas, and are currently planning their dream wedding for the summer of 2019.
Jlissa told Barcroft TV: “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.
“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.
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.”
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,” she said.
“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,” Jlissa said.
“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.”