By: Korie Marshall

If she gets enough votes, McBride resident Kia Hascarl-Johnsen could win $5,000 from a Dr. Pepper contest to put towards tuition for school next September. But what Kia really wants is to get the attention Ellen Degeneres.

Hascarl-Johnsen has been watching the Ellen show faithfully for 12 years, often with her two sons. She has a folder on her phone with all the social media apps that Ellen uses, though Hascarl-Johnsen rarely uses them all. She’s tried contacting Degeneres before, sometimes at the bidding of her son, because Degeneres helps people, some of them who are no worse off than Hascarl-Johnsen. She has never gotten a response, but she thinks this time is different.

“I was just looking for help before. This time I have a mission and a purpose,” says Hascarl-Johnsen. This time, she has a plan to become a Recreational Therapist, so she can help people the way she was helped when she recently had part of her leg removed.

Hascarl-Johnsen may be a little shy to talk about the circumstances of her life, but she has no problem talking about her leg. She had it removed in 2013, because of crippling pain in her knee – pain that at one point in her life led to addiction.

Ten years ago, Hascarl-Johnsen and her two sons came to a safe house in McBride in the middle of the night to get away from a spouse in Prince George who was going to kill her. She’s raised her two sons here, with help from the community including the food bank, and one son is now graduated. The other will graduate this year, and Hascarl-Johnsen wants to do something more with her life.

As pain in her knee from injury and surgeries grew worse over four years in McBride, Hascarl-Johnsen lost work, gained weight, and at one point became addicted to the medications and alcohol she was using to control the pain. Finally, doctors offered a possible remedy – removing her leg above the knee might take the pain away. It certainly wasn’t a sure thing, but she couldn’t walk on her leg anymore anyway, and she figured she’d at least be no worse off. Her son encouraged her to give it a shot, and on May 3rd, 2013, she had the leg removed above the knee, spending 73 days in hospital in Prince George.

“It changed everything in me.”

Hascarl-Johnsen took early childhood education courses when she graduated high school, and also started a marketing and management diploma in Prince George, but had to quit when she fled her spouse. She has never been very patient, but had to learn patience when she was in physiotherapy. She recognizes so much of what is involved in recovery, and she wants to help others through it.

“I have a ‘leg up’ on recognizing bad days and taking advantage of good days,” she says. “I know I can make a difference.” Hascarl-Johnsen is applying to the Recreational Therapist Diploma program in Coquitlam, starting in September 2015. She doesn’t want to ask for handouts, but her disability cheques will be much lower with her sons graduated, and she will need financial assistance. She doesn’t think she will get a student loan, because she still owes money from the last time she went to school.

She found out about the Dr. Pepper contest on the TV show Ellen. Dr. Pepper gives away over $1,000,000 in tuition to young people, and Hascarl-Johnsen was heartbroken when she found out there was an age limit, and she would not be afforded the same opportunity as a younger person. Hascarl-Johnsen is 41, so she doesn’t qualify for the $100,000 awards Dr. Pepper gives out, but they do offer $5,000 awards to older people, based on total number of votes. And Degeneres has given some of those contestants even more.

Hascarl-Johnsen knows she can make her friends and community proud, and she knows she has a lot of positive energy to spread around. She always has a big smile on her face, which sometimes masked the pain in her life, but she is always helping people. She has no pain in her leg now, and is learning to walk with a prosthetic, though she’s fallen a few times.

You can go to Dr. Pepper’s website and search by name to vote for her, or maybe try contact Ellen,, to see if she will help a vibrant, purposeful mom get a “leg up” in life.