By Joe Roberts @JRoberts
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Videographer / director: Taylor Bluemel
Producer: Joe Roberts
Editor: Pete Ansell
Samantha Norgart was diagnosed with Hypotonic Cerebral Palsy at the age of one, which causes stiff muscles and muscle spasms, and prevented her from speaking properly until the age of 21.
But even with this debilitating condition, the determined Oregon City-native has begun a modelling career, using the photos on social media to spread a message of positivity and inclusivity.
The 22-year-old, known online as ‘@wheelchairblondie’, told Barcroft Studios: “Most people assume because I’m in a wheelchair my mind doesn’t work. But it does.
“At the end of the day, you just have to live and have no fear and no regrets.”
Sister, Sophie said: “Samantha always wants to do anything, she always wants to try something new. She’s very adventurous, optimistic, and open-minded. She doesn’t judge anyone.
“I think her modeling is perfect for her. She started working with organisations and brands, and at first we thought maybe it was a bit of fun.
“But now it’s getting more serious to where she’s getting agencies contacting her and wanting to her even start traveling, so it’s pretty cool.”
Getting to this point hasn’t been easy for Samantha, who has undergone three major surgeries to help with her movement and posture.
Mum, Denise, also had trouble nursing Samantha as a child, due to her difficulty controlling muscle movements, which ultimately led to Samantha struggling to gain weight.
Then, at age nine, she had a major procedure on her legs to try to correct her walking.
Denise said: “When she would try to walk she would cross her legs over each other because her muscle was too tight. So, they had to go in and loosen it. Just snip it a little bit.”
This was followed by spine surgery at the age of 16, which had to be redone a year later after the hardware failed to adhere to the bone.
Denise said: “That was very scary. As a mum, for me, I didn't have time to be weak and freak out and be emotional because I needed to be strong for everybody else and her.”
Two years after this ordeal, Samantha started feeling pain in her lower back, which was diagnosed as Arthritis in one of the lower disks of her spine.
Doctors then extended the rods in her back to take care of the problem, but Samantha’s medical journey was far from over.
Following the surgery, a truly remarkable series of events resulted in Samantha speaking for the first time at the age of 21.
Doctors applied a Scopolamine patch to her skin to help her with her feelings of nausea, and soon after Samantha began talking.
“I couldn’t keep anything down for like three days," said Samantha.
“Because of this patch, now I can talk. It was great, it was so great to finally have my independence.”
Denise recalled: “We were at Shriners Hospital she was in her hospital bed. She started talking and it just took my breath away.
“I was trying to get my head around all this because I'm thinking ‘wait a minute how is this possible? Why now?'
“I feel like it's a miracle in my eyes. I feel there was a reason why they gave her this patch instead of those dissolving pills that she had before for nausea. It’s just crazy.”
Sophie added: “We were just really shocked and we started like calling people. I remember we called my grandma and we were just like ‘Grandma listen to this’ and Samantha was like ‘Hi, how are you doing?’ and my grandma was just in awe.”
The sudden change in Samantha led doctors to believe the initial Cerebral Palsy diagnosis was incorrect, but thus far they have been unable to identify the actual condition.
For now, Samantha is keeping the patch on until a proper diagnosis arrives and the course of medication can be prescribed.
So far, genetic testing has not revealed anything abnormal, so Samantha has applied to an undiagnosed research program in search of an answer.
In the meantime, she has been continuously modelling with photographers around Oregon, including frequent collaborator Bill Lind, who runs photo studio Cobalt Studios PDX in Portland.
“Samantha is an amazing soul and an amazing model,” he said.
“We have fallen in love with her at the studio and she’s really become a big part of our world of inclusiveness, to make sure that everybody who wants to be behind or in front of the camera is included.
“She literary will stand there and go ‘Leave me here, get the shot, I don’t care if I fall.’ And it scares us but, we’ve kind of factored in the falling thing.
“We’ve always kind of made fun of it, that's the fun of it, but she’s very confident in that way that for her, it’s more important to get the shot than the fear of falling.”
Samantha has managed to do all this despite needing a care giver to help her get her up, get dressed, eat, and go to the bathroom.
Denise said: “I am very proud of her modeling and how she's gone about doing it herself and not waiting around for somebody to hold her hand.
“She is a go-getter and she will get this world to look at people with disabilities in a different way.”
Samantha added: “I want to say to anyone struggling with a physical condition that you’re no different than an able-bodied person. You have to keep strong.
“I’ve been talking for one year now, so anything is possible when you have a positive mindset.”