Karmen Ayres

At age 7, Karmen Ayres watched helplessly as her active life ground to a halt.

“I was so ill that I lost all this weight and basically became nothing,” says the native of Aberdeen, Wash. Doctors discovered an egg-sized growth on her left kidney that was causing severe reflux, a condition in which fluids are forced back into the kidney instead of through the bladder. Ayres lost the kidney, but, almost miraculously, the dangerous growth disappeared. “That’s why I’m here today,” she adds. “My dad calls me ‘Little Miss Magic.’ ”

For the next eight years, Ayres’ life seemed back on track. In ninth grade, she joined Aberdeen High School’s SkillsUSA chapter. “I love talking, so I joined the audio broadcasting program,” she says. “My advisor, Mr. [Chuck] Veloni, is my inspiration. He pushed me to run for state, national office, everything.”

After becoming a SkillsUSA state officer, Ayres began preparing for a national campaign. Then the fainting spells began.

“The reflux came back in my right kidney,” she explains. “I was in serious pain, passing six kidney stones at a time.” Her emergency surgery seemed a total success — until she woke up.

“I didn’t know where I was or why,” Ayres says. “My mom tried to comfort me, and I started crying and told her to leave me alone. I didn’t know who she was.” In another cruel turn, Ayres had lost all feeling in her legs due to a nerve being nicked during surgery.

Some might have raised a white flag at this point, but Ayres, still remembering her goal to become a national officer, launched a counter-offensive. With her parents’ help, memories and partial feeling in her legs began to return. She willed herself to walk again, much sooner than her doctors expected.

Incredibly, Ayres made it to SkillsUSA’s national conference, although campaigning on legs that sometimes collapsed. It was a victory in itself that she chose to keep secret. “I didn’t want that sympathy vote,” she explains. “I wanted them to vote for me because I was deserving.”

On the night of the Awards Ceremony, Ayres got her wish: she was the new high-school vice president. “I heard my name and just stood there. Everyone started hugging me, and I started bawling. I’d never felt so proud,” she adds.

Today, Ayres’ health prognosis is good, and “Little Miss Magic” is planning to become a nurse practitioner specializing in pediatrics.

“SkillsUSA taught me there are no limits in life,” she says. “It’s not just ‘the sky’s the limit.’ There is no limit.”