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A Conversation with Marina Nakhla

Marina has always loved science. Her long-term goal is to earn a Ph.D., so she can work as a clinical psychologist and continue conducting research in neuropsychology. Marina is using her ability and curiosity to challenge stereotypes, not only of women in science, but of women with disabilities in this field.

Heady ambitions from a woman who has experienced obstacles most of us never face, including misguided assumptions about her abilities, bullying, and who readily admits “being an amputee has impacted all aspects of my life- School, especially the early years, was very difficult”

Her desire to break these assumptions and show people what she is capable of, is evident as she shares her story with us in his latest edition of Inspired.

Tell us about yourself

My name is Marina Nakhla. I’m currently a doctoral student at the San Diego State University/University of California San Diego Joint Doctoral Program in Clinical Psychology, with an emphasis in Neuropsychology. My journey in STEM  (science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine) and higher education as a student with a physical disability has also been recognized by the NIH National Institutes of General Medical Sciences Biomedical Beat Blog.
I live in Southern California.

What has been your journey of disability?

I was born with tibial hemimelia, which means that I had no tibias as well as nonfunctioning kneecaps and ankles.  Without the Tibia bones, my feet would never have been able to support my weight. This resulted in bilateral above knee amputations at fourteen months old. I was also born with ectrodactyly of my hands, with 4 total fingers on my left hand and 3 total fingers on my right hand.

I was treated at Shriner’s Hospital for children up until I turned 18 years old. I am now a patient at Hanger Clinic Prosthetics and Orthotics. I would not be where I am today without my prosthetists. They have played an instrumental role in my thriving with my disability.

I’m also very involved in the amputee community; I’ve participated in several events including Angel City Games, Challenged Athletes Foundation Triathlon, Hanger Clinic’s Bilateral Above Knee Amputee Bootcamp, Hanger Clinic’s EmpowerFest, and the Amputee Coalition of America conference. Not only have I participated in several amputee events, but I have also blogged for several platforms including Ottobock Momentum, Thrive Magazine, and Amplitude Magazine, advocating for individuals with physical disabilities.

Are there things about you that people misunderstand because of your disability?

Throughout my childhood, people made the assumption that I had intellectual difficulties due to my physical disability. I was wrongfully placed in a special education preschool class and was then transferred to regular classes. Many individuals also assume that I am uncomfortable with discussing my disability. However, I always make sure to counter this misunderstanding.

I face different obstacles than other people. My struggles have taught me many things, time management, resilience, and appreciation for the little things that others might take for granted. Having disability has taught me to be strong, hardworking and persistent.  I think being an amputee means that I have to work twice as hard as anyone else.

Who inspires you?

My mother, sister, and late father are my biggest inspirations. Ever since I was a child, they always treated me like everyone else, encouraged me to do things I didn’t think I could do, and constantly pushed me to believe in myself. They inspire me to always work hard and never give up, despite any challenges that may arise.

Which three words would you use to describe yourself?

I would describe myself as compassionate, empathetic, and resilient.

Who or what has been the most significant influences on who you are today?

Family and friends, my mentors in research and classes, my prosthetist, and other amputees… my support network, church community, amputee community, and academic/professional community.

What’s one thing about you that surprises people?

People are typically surprised that I’m obtaining my doctorate degree. As a female with a physical disability – who is also a first-generation American college student and a child of immigrants – I am definitely a minority in higher education.


Life can be very challenging, but we are strong. We are capable. We can inspire others and make a difference in this world


For what are you most grateful today?

I am extremely grateful for my family and friends. I have a very strong support system that I can lean on through my difficult times, and I never take them for granted. I think that having a positive and strong support system is crucial for everyone, not just individuals with physical disabilities.

Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give your 18-year-old self?

When I was 18 years old and younger, I struggled with looking physically different. As any kid in his/her teenage years, I wanted to be like everyone else. Knowing what I know now, I would advise my 18-year-old self to love myself more, to be proud of my physical differences.

Is there something that you would like people to know about you or about people with disability that they might not know?

Some people may not know or may not realize how I have to work twice as hard as them on a regular basis to achieve the same goals. They see and comment on my strengths, but do not always see the struggles that occur behind the scenes. Wearing my prosthetic legs for long hours and being involved in graduate school (classes, research, clinical work), extracurricular activities, and social activities can be physically straining and exhausting. I also have several routine medical appointments on top of a busy schedule. There are days where I am in pain and most people don’t know, because they see the success and not the struggle.

Is there some piece of information or advice that you wish you had been told, that might have made a difference in your life journey that you would like to share with other women with disabilities?

As women with disabilities, we need to bring each other up, not push each other down. We need to support each other and push each other to strive for the better. We face unique challenges not only associated with being a woman, but also associated with having a disability. Life can be very challenging, but we are strong. We are capable. We can inspire others and make a difference in this world

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