The following article about a College of San Mateo student originally appeared in the San Mateo County Times on January 4, 2010. It is being reprinted with the permission of the San Mateo County Times and protected from unauthorized reprinting by copyright law.
Misty Blue Foster grew up in foster care after losing her mother to a drug addiction.
She also spent much time in the hospital having surgeries for serious physical disabilities.
Between foster care and the hospital, there was no question where she would rather be.
“The nurses were some of the most kind people to me,” said Foster, now 24, of San Mateo. “I got food. I got my treatment. I was always made to feel special as opposed to when I was in foster care.”
Much hasn’t gone well in Foster’s young life, but she’s not complaining.
In fact, she’s thriving despite — or even perhaps because of — the medical, emotional and other challenges she has endured.
Her perseverance and accomplishments in the face of severe adversity recently earned her national praise from the Great Comebacks Program. The organization spotlights inspirational people living with intestinal and other diseases that can lead to ostomy surgery, which creates an artificial opening on the body for the discharge of waste.
Just before her recognition, Foster experienced another kind of comeback — she reunited with the younger sister who she believed died as an infant.
“It’s been quite a year,” said Foster, a petite woman with a bubbly, round face and a young girl’s voice.
Foster was born three months premature and diagnosed with cloacal exstrophy, a rare and complicated
defect in which inner-abdominal structures are exposed.She also has spina bifida, a birth defect that involves the spinal cord.
She went through several surgeries at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital in Palo Alto to treat her medical conditions.
If that wasn’t enough to contend with early in life, she was placed in foster care at age 5 after her mom’s incarceration. About a year later, her mom died from heroin use. She doesn’t know what ever happened to her father.
She preferred not to talk about her years in foster care other than to say, “It wasn’t really good.”
At 18, she was out of foster care and on her own. She was determined to not let her disabilities limit what she wanted to do.
“It hasn’t been easy because of my physical condition,” Foster said, “but that doesn’t stop me. I felt that my disabilities didn’t mean I didn’t deserve the same quality of life as other people. I feel people with disabilities can live as fulfilling a life as the average person or even a more fulfilling life because they push themselves more. Some healthy people might take the things they have for granted.”
Because of her fond memories of the nurses who cared for her, Foster decided to be just like them.
She studied to get her nursing credentials and currently works as a licensed vocational nurse in the cardiology department of the veterans hospital in Palo Alto.
“Now I take care of vets,” she said. “Sometimes they’re self-conscious, but I say don’t be because I have some of the same things they have. I can relate to them, and they don’t have to be embarrassed.”
Maggie Bussey, Foster’s supervisor, applauded her work with patients and co-workers.
“She’s just wonderful,” Bussey said. “I don’t want to lose her for anything.”
But Foster still has goals to pursue and is continuing her studies at College of San Mateo. She aspires to be ultimately a registered nurse working in a hospital emergency room.
Foster also got married and in her spare time enjoys in-line skating, yoga and practicing the Brazilian martial art of capoeira.
“She has been put in situations that would stop a normal person,” said Tom Exler, a good friend of Foster’s and vice president of the Association for the Bladder Exstrophy Community based in Michigan.
Great Comebacks was also impressed and in October honored Foster with an Ina Brudnick regional award in memory of the pioneering nurse in ostomy care.
“These debilitating diseases and the prospect of ostomy surgery can leave you feeling isolated, fearful and uncertain about the future,” said Rolf Benirschke, chairman of Great Comebacks and a former professional football player who was diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease.
Foster attended the award ceremonies and met other honorees. “It was an inspiration to hear their stories about not letting their physical disabilities hold them back,” she said. “I think that’s very important. With advances in medicine, people (with debilitating illnesses) can still go to school, get married and do things that maybe 30 or 40 years ago they can’t imagine doing.”
Foster couldn’t have imagined the e-mail that popped in her inbox a few months earlier.
“You look a lot like me,” the e-mail read, “and your name is similar to the sister I had when I was younger.”
But Foster thought that the baby sister she recalled holding as a toddler passed away long ago and she had no other family around.
She and the e-mailer confirmed having the same mother and grandmother. After all these years, Foster got back her sister, Brandy, now 18 and living in Rancho Tehama.
Brandy tracked her older sister down through the Internet, finding an online story about Foster winning a scholarship award. A picture of Foster accompanied the profile.
The two reunited Memorial Day weekend. “We’re getting to know each other,” Foster said. “She’s very proud of me.”
During that reunion, Brandy handed Foster an unwrapped Christmas gift from their grandmother, who died several years ago.
“My sister kept it, hoping to give to me someday,” Foster said. “It had a gift sticker on the wrapping. My sister never opened it.”
The sticker said, “To Misty. Love, your Grandma. I love you.”
Foster opened the gift.
“It was the most special gift I got,” Foster said. “It was a small child’s gold charm bracelet.”
For more information, visit the Web site www.greatcomebacks.com.