by Tina Ortiz, customer service associate in Mequon, Wis.
25 January 2021
In this new series celebrating the diversity of team members at Walgreens, a customer service associate from Wisconsin shares her incredible story of tragedy and triumph.

Tina Ortiz with daughter
Tina Ortiz (left) walks on crutches behind her daughter, Nalani Williams, who was a source of strength following an accident that caused Ortiz to lose her left leg.


“On April 6, 2018, I was hit by a drunk driver. It was a hit and run. I had my seat belt on, but my car flipped three times and I was ejected out of the windshield. Because of the accident, I had to have a left leg amputation. They took everything on my left side from my glutes down – the thigh, the calf, the foot.
 
“At first I was in a coma. I knew I had been in a bad accident, but I didn’t know my leg was gone. They told me when I woke up two months later.
 
“The person who hit me had no insurance, and served eight months of a two-year sentence in jail. I felt like the criminal justice system and the state had failed me, and I was struggling financially and emotionally.
 
“I thought to myself, this is either going to make you or break you, and I made sure it didn’t break me. I thought about my daughter, who’s now almost 15, who I have to raise. And I turned to my faith and found strength. I had to show my daughter that bad things can happen to good people, and no matter what goes on in your life, keep moving forward.
 
“I went through a lot of changes and challenges in life after that. I was at the hospital for almost four months going through extensive rehab. Putting on clothes was my biggest challenge. To sit up and put a shirt over your head or put a sock on was so hard. Only having one leg, keeping your balance is the most important thing, so I’m constantly working on my core at the gym. Today, I can hop. I can jump rope. I'm even trying to flip. Once I flip, we’re going to record that, and I swear to God I'm going viral. Watch me do a perfect cartwheel with one leg!


Tina Ortiz at the gym

“I was able to live off my savings for a little while, and then I had to get a job. I was coming to Walgreens all the time, and somebody told me to apply. So I did. When I had my interview, I was kind of scared. I didn't want them to look at me different because I have a leg missing. I interviewed at other places and faced discrimination because of my disability. But Walgreens didn't look at me like that. It felt like home when I came in, and they’ve accommodated me in every way since. I said, ‘I can't stand for eight hours, but can I sit?’ They gave me a chair. Here I am one year later, and I wouldn't give it up for the world.

“Sometimes customers will walk up and ask where a product is, and I’ll say, ‘Well, let me show you.’ And when I come from behind the counter they’re like, ‘Oh, no, no, no!’ And I’m like, ‘It's OK. I got a leg. I got crutches. Let's roll. Let's race down the aisle!’

Tina Ortiz at work“I'm an outgoing person, and I love people. And when you love people and you have a positive attitude, it’s contagious and it can help somebody. You never know how a person's day is going. I greet the elderly customers who come in with, ‘What's going on, young man?’ They get so excited and they smile and say, ‘I haven’t been called young in 23 years!’ I do it to the elderly women, too. Just to get somebody to smile takes a thousand worries away.
 
“A lot of times my customers just want to have a conversation. They pick up their prescription and then come to the front and get in line. I ask, “What are you getting today?’ And they’ll say, ‘Nothing. I just wanted to say hi and tell you how my day is going.’ They just want to be listened to. I make sure when they come in, they hear me. And when they leave, they feel me. There’s a difference between hearing and feeling.
 
“2020 was a rough year – for everybody. When I sense a customer is having a bad day, the first thing I tell them is breathe. Breathing, smiling and letting things roll off your back can make such a difference. Don’t get me wrong, I have bad days, too. I still struggle daily – getting off the bed, getting dressed. Just recently I took off a hat and put it on my lap. It fell to the floor. It took me a minute to realize I didn’t have two legs to hold it there. There have been a couple times when I’m at work and I catch a glimpse of my leg in the bathroom mirror. I instantly go to a dark place. But then I straighten myself up, and I just keep going. Even on my bad days, I smile. And that's how I keep a positive attitude.
 
“I have a great team, too. We laugh, we joke, and we get business done. It's like family. One time when our truck came, I grabbed a whole tote full of products to put out on the shelves. I was like, ‘Let me do this.’ So there I was, on my crutches doing a tote, and my store manager, Patrick Schad, walked by and said, ‘Wow! You can do that, too?’ And when I got done with that, I did another aisle. It’s pretty cool that they include me. I'm so used to being excluded because I have a disability, and that’s my biggest pet peeve. Just because I have a leg missing doesn't mean I can't do the work. And they allow me to be frontline, and to show people that yes, I'm different. Yes, I have a disability. But being different doesn't mean I'm not part of the team. And it’s nice to feel wanted, because at one point in my life, my self-esteem just went so far down. But I refuse to let this horrible accident defeat who I am as a person.
 

Tina Ortiz billboard
 
“Through the hospital where I recovered, I'm now part of a marketing campaign called ‘What Is Humanly Possible.’ A photo of me standing with my prosthetic leg is on a local billboard, in a commercial and in a magazine. And in December 2020, I graduated and am now a licensed massage therapist, which will allow me to help heal others. So I have all kinds of ways of touching people’s lives and hearts.
 
“I knew I had a purpose in life to help people, but now I believe in that purpose more than ever because I should have never made it out of that accident. Just to wake up today is everything to me. Two years ago, I wouldn't have made it. And with my strength, I made it.”