ZEELAND — When Zeeland resident Amanda Villarreal was just 12 years old, she had a doctor’s appointment that left her at a crossroads in her life.
When Villarreal was born, the skin on her left side looked burnt from the neck down to her foot. While doctors had struggled to diagnose her condition, at 6 months old, she was diagnosed with Klippel-Trenaunay Syndrome, or KTS.
Because of KTS, Villarreal’s entire left side is darker in color and smaller than her right. Her left arm and leg are an inch and a half smaller than her right side and the circumference of her arm, leg and hip are smaller on her left side.
For years, her parents searched for a doctor who could help her. They continuously had more questions than answers. Then, at age 12, they found a doctor.
During her visit to the doctor, Villarreal, who was playing basketball in middle school at the time, was told to stop playing immediately.
“I was sent to the best vascular surgeon at the University of Michigan and that surgeon told me to stop all physical activity,” Villarreal said. “He told me I was going to lose my leg to amputation by the time I was 18 and that I wouldn’t have kids.”
While the news was devastating, Villarreal explained that she chose to go a different route in life.
“When I heard that news, I thought my life was over,” she said. “I basically chose a different path and became an advocate for myself and decided that I loved sports and that was what made me happy so I was just going to continue.”
Fast forward to 2023 and not only did Villarreal not lose her leg, but she also has five children and owns her own health and wellness business, AVWellness, helping others implement fitness, nutrition and lifestyle strategies for almost 30 years.
While her diagnosis of KTS has provided challenges through the years, health and wellness has been her passion dating back to college. Along with attending Grand Valley State University full-time and working at JCI Prince, she also taught midnight fitness classes.
“I was told all these things that I couldn’t do but that made it my mission to get my degree in corporate fitness and wellness and from there I have continued to get 14 additional certifications,” Villerreal said. “I have really worked to be very versatile. I figured that if I wanted to help somebody, I could help them in all areas of wellness, not just one specific need.”
Despite her success through the years, the journey has not always been easy. She has had eight surgeries to help with swelling and pain and while most people wouldn’t notice her symptoms, KTS continues to impact her life.
For years, she tried to hide it and didn’t even tell others her story until about five years ago. She’d wear pants to cover up and would start to limp when she got tired.
Much like when she was 12 years old, Villarreal continued to push forward, doing whatever she could to have a positive impact on those around her.
“I tell people to try to keep a positive attitude,” Villarreal said. “One of the best things to do is make sure your mindset is keeping you in a place where you can realize that you can do more than you think you can.”
Through AVWellness, her goal is to take what she has learned throughout her life to help other busy women “embrace healthy aging” through fitness, nutrition and lifestyle strategies.
To do that, she has membership programs for workouts, she has a full studio in her basement where she holds live and virtual classes and also recently launched a phone app, also called AVWellness.
She has held free community park workouts for the past nine years, hosts monthly smoothie workshops and teaches wellness classes at local libraries and corporations.
With so much going on, the West Michigan community has taken notice. On May 17, as part of the 2023 Brilliance Awards, Villarreal was one of the winners, taking home the Brilliant Tenacity award.
For Villarreal, none of that would have been possible had she quit playing sports at age 12 and quit pursuing her dreams. While it’s important to heed professional advice, she said it’s also crucial to be your own health advocate and never give up — no matter what you are faced with.
For those looking to learn more about Villarreal and AVWellness, visit her website at avwellness.com.
— Contact freelancer Austin Metz at[email protected].