Sometimes, Apryl Michelle Brown allows herself to indulge in sorrow over the loss of her hands and feet. | PHOTOS
In those moments, the 47-year-old Lawndale woman addresses her own ego directly and tells it to be quiet. She remembers that she's no longer living her life just for herself.
"There's somebody now that feels amputated - and they have their hands and feet," she said. "They need to see me pressing forward."
Brown's arms were cut just above the wrists and her legs were amputated at the middle of her shins after a staph infection nearly killed her in 2011.
The bacterial infection developed while she was hospitalized to have part of her buttocks removed because she was in constant pain as a result of silicone injections.
Brown had paid someone to inject industrial-grade silicone into her rear end in 2004 because she desperately wanted a fuller behind. The procedure, called "pumping," is an illegal form of plastic surgery. It's much cheaper than legal buttock implants but extremely dangerous. The practice is commonly done at house "butt-pumping" parties or hotel rooms. Brown's procedure took place at the woman's home, in her daughter's bedroom.
At the time, Brown owned a beauty salon in Los Angeles and, although looks were extremely important to her, she had been doing a lot of soul searching after leaving an Apostolic religious community that she describes as a cult. Still, when a woman came into her shop one day and told her she did butt pumping, Brown was thrilled.
"I said: `Oh thank you, Jesus, I've always wanted more butt,"' she remembers. "In my mind, I'm doing the Roger Rabbit and the Cabbage Patch (dances), saying, `I'm gonna get some booty!"'
The seeming gift from God turned sour for Brown after she went for two sessions of painful injections that didn't seem to have any aesthetic affect. She was told she needed more injections but she decided to stop.
"I had an epiphany," she said. "I thought: `What are you doing? You're letting someone inject something in your body and you don't even know what it is."'
Unfortunately, her change of mind came too late.
The silicone hardened within a year and, by 2006, Brown knew something was very wrong. The area itched and hurt but she was too embarrassed to admit to her doctor that she had had injections. In 2007, she tried to convince doctors and her insurance company that she needed to have her butt cheeks removed. It took four years before the surgery was approved.
Her first surgery was only a partial amputation and she had to go back for a full butt amputation in the summer of 2011.
But she didn't die.
She was given medication that concentrated her blood flow in her body's core. It kept her alive but deprived her extremities of blood. As she watched gangrene spread up her arms and legs, Brown had to give the doctors permission to cut them off.
It wasn't a difficult decision then because Brown knew it was a choice between life and death.
"They gave me 24 hours to live - that's a message," she said. "I'm here to share my story and tell my truth."
Admittedly, adjusting to life without hands and feet was frustrating, Brown said. She calls her current body "my new normal."
"This is when you miss your fingers - when you're digging for stuff," she said recently, as she dug in a couch cushion for her misplaced cellphone. "You're like, `Oh, the fingers did all this!"'
She has prosthetic feet and uses hooks for hands. With those, she is now training for a triathlon in Pasadena in March. She can't afford more modern prosthetics that allow for more mobility, and she decided not to sue the doctors for malpractice in her case because it would be too negative an experience, she said. Instead, she wants to focus on deepening her spirituality and connecting with young girls who have bad body images.
Brown knows she made a bad decision to have silicone injected into her body, but she believes that the choices she makes now are the ones that really matter.
"Even though this has been a horrific experience, I'm still here," she said. "Not only am I still here, but I'm here for a purpose. If you're not in tune with your purpose, then you look for something outside of yourself to fix you. Sometimes you look for it in the most dangerous ways."
Brown's roommate, Aver Burroughs, said she has seen her longtime friend grow spiritually in the last year, as she's learned to adjust to her "new normal," and shared the experience at school talks and in interviews with journalists.
"If anything, it's made her more based in the spirit," Burroughs said. "I've seen her overwhelmed by the experience but, generally, she has risen above. She hasn't wallowed. Even when we go out somewhere, she disarms people - to say, `This is OK.' Her personality is infectious."
Brown said that she now realizes her search for physical beauty - including a larger butt - was the result of a spiritual disconnect that she had felt since she was a child in a religious cult that taught her that, unless she was perfect, she would not be accepted by God.
"We were told that God was in the sky and, if we do it right on Earth, we can get back to God," she said. "But I knew I couldn't do all that. I felt disconnected."
Now she believes beauty comes from her own spirit, and she tries to convey that in her talks. She is also working on a book about her experiences that she hopes to publish next year.
"I had done enough of the spiritual work to know this has to be for a bigger purpose," she said. "It has to be or you'll drown in sorrow. You can't ask, `Why me?' You have to ask God, `What do you want me to do with this?"'
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For more information about Apryl Michelle Brown, visit her website at www.AprylMichelleBrown.com.