By Ana-Maria Gutierrez
During Amputee Coalition’s 2022 National Conference, I was instantly drawn across the room to a smiling woman, proudly donning her crown and sash. Her name is Melinda Preciado, 2022 Ms. Wheelchair Oregon. I had the pleasure of hearing her incredible story of survival and perseverance.
Melinda worked for 17 years as an ER Tech/CNA2 health care professional. After her last day working in the Emergency Department, she had a tragic accident. In January 2021, Melinda experienced a traumatic event that could have taken her life. Her family was called to her bedside to say their final goodbyes. But she awoke out of her condition, lying in a bed, in the same hospital where she had worked for so many years. Miraculously, Melinda survived.
After a life-altering surgery, she lost her right leg above the knee. She also suffers severe arthritis and deformity in her left leg from the hip to the foot. Consequently, she has embarked on a new life journey in a wheelchair.
Melinda had to give up the career she was passionate about for many years but she desires to continue helping others. She decided to participate in the Ms. Wheelchair Oregon Advocacy and Empowerment Program, which celebrates the achievements of women with disabilities and provides a platform to exhibit their strengths while encouraging and informing the public. Amazingly, just 14 months after her amputation, she was on the quest for the title. She was crowned the champion, and she jokes that she “just rolled with it.”
As she was going through her recovery process and learning how to navigate the world in a new way, ironically, in her own doctor’s offices, she realized that many public spaces were not designed with accessibility in mind. She is now an advocate for people living with both visible and invisible disabilities. She is a mother of two, one of which lives with Autism. She recalls being a staunch advocate for her son’s rights and now using her platform, “Adapting America For All,” she is advocating for the greater good. Melinda collaborates with her government representatives on local campaigns to increase awareness for ensuring all public buildings are equipped with accessible door buttons and restroom facilities.
In August 2022, Melinda enrolled in the 2023 Ms. Wheelchair America Competition, Inc. competition to represent her state. She received two recognition awards for her advocacy work: a Rising Star Award and a Certificate of Achievement in recognition of her outstanding achievements in advocacy for people with disabilities. She’s proud of her achievement and knows that she doesn’t need a national title to continue to serve and advocate for her community.
Today, Melinda volunteers as a Certified Peer Visitor for the Amputee Coalition Peer Visitor Program, a program that trains volunteers to provide information and support for individuals about to undergo amputation or who currently have limb loss/difference. No one is potentially in a better position to understand about living life with an amputation or supporting a person with limb loss/difference than someone who has been there.
When I spoke with Melinda, her inner strength was self-evident. Being a survivor of domestic violence in her earlier life and now through her battle to process and navigate her new normal, her tenacity shines through. She says that, although this experience has taken so much from her, she is very aware of how much she has gained as well. She finds it truly amazing that she is still able to help others.
“We all have the human right to be treated with respect, dignity, equality, and inclusion; we have the right to feel seen and heard.” Melinda is learning and growing and making a difference in people’s lives. She says that fills the part of herself that she has lost.