Photo by Gordon Weeks
Sahaya Corkern shows off a newly shorn hunk of her hair that she will donate to Locks of Love.

Despite own obstacles, Sahaya helps others

By Christina Kale

At age 22, Sahaya Corkern is deceptively small. But, even born with spina bifida, she doesn’t see herself as confined to a wheelchair. “I do almost everything for myself,” she says.

Alone, she rides the bus from her home in Des Moines to volunteer at Seattle Children’s Hospital.

“I work with kids who are really sick which made me think about donating my hair to Locks of Love,” Sahaya noted.

Locks of Love is a non-profit organization that provides hairpieces to children with medical hair loss.

Last week, while stylists Amy and Monica of Illusions Hair Design in West Seattle, cut her hair for Locks of Love, Sahaya shared details of her life journey.

Born in India and left at an orphanage run by Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity, Sahaya believes her birth family just couldn’t handle the expense of her disability. “I was only a year old when I was taken to the orphanage,” she explains. As an older child, she was transferred to another Indian orphanage in hopes that she would find an adoptive family.

That family turned out to be Des Moines residents Sean and Laura Corkern.

An electrician and teacher, respectively, the Corkerns have sixteen children—fifteen who were adopted from the United States, India, Liberia, Ethiopia and Thailand.

Sahaya doesn’t mind the constant influx of siblings. “We’re a family,” she says. With that, nearly a foot of her long dark hair falls to the ground in a single snip, “It looks like a mop!” she laughs, holding it up in one hand.

As the second adopted child, Sahaya came into the Corkern’s life unexpectedly. “Sean and I were actually at the World Association for Children and Parents agency adopting a different child,” says Laura,

“When we flipped through a book of available children in the waiting room, there was a picture of seven-year old Sahaya sitting on the floor of an orphanage. We saw she had spina bifida, turned and looked at each other.”

Two members of the Corkern family had spina bifida at the time “so we weren’t scared of it one bit,” Laura says. “In fact, I think the caseworker was hoping we would see Sahaya’s picture.”

One year later, the Corkerns brought Sahaya home to the United States.

As she leans back for a shampoo, she talks about life in Des Moines. “I went to elementary school here but was bullied so I started homeschooling instead.” Softly she explains, “Once, a girl pushed me out of my wheelchair at recess and I laid there on the ground all day.”

“But, I did go to a kids summer camp for people like me four or five times, “ she smiles, “We played wheelchair basketball, soccer and volleyball.” When asked which was her favorite, she blushes and says, “Basketball. I was pretty good at that.”

Now pursuing her GED, she is in her second year at Highline Community College. “I started late because I was recently in the hospital for almost a year,” she says. “I used that time to try to find my birth family.” She pauses, “I haven’t had much success. Someday I may travel to India to look—I won’t go visit the orphanage though,” she smiles, “I’ve had enough of that.”

After a few scissor snips, Sahaya turns and politely asks for “enough to have a ponytail for swimming” since twice a week during the summer she takes the bus to a pool for physical therapy.

“I don’t know how she does it,” says Laura, “she’ll sit there and buses will go right by because they don’t want to take time to stop but she never gives up.”

“Sometimes the Metro Access people forget to pick me up at the hospital after I’m done volunteering,” Sahaya smirks, “but they eventually remember—even if it’s two hours late.”

Sahaya focuses on fine needlework and quilting during her few moments of free time. “I also like reading biographies,” she says. When asked her favorite, she looks amused, “Mother Teresa. Of course.”

The finished style is a smooth, dark, shining wave of hair falling softly just below her shoulders. She turns her head side to side as she runs her fingers through it. “Wow,” she says softly, “I really do look different.”

After thanking everyone, Sahaya heads toward the door. “I’d love to stay,” she says with a polite smile, “but I have homework to do.”

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