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Cover Star: Plus Size Model Kori Leilani Shares The Health Scare That Kept Her Away From The Industry

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Cover Star: Plus Size Model Kori Leilani Shares The Health Scare That Kept Her Away From The Industry

Image Credits: Photographer, Lesley Pedraza, MUA, Angela January-Taylor and stylist, Rhea Norman.

Image Credits: Photographer, Lesley Pedraza; MUA, Angela January-Taylor; Stylist, Rhea Norman.

Sometimes we’re forced to take a step back from what we’re passionate about to get our lives in order. That’s what happened to Kori Leilani.

After building her brand and making solid connections, this plus size model on the rise was forced to take a break from the industry due to a degenerative disease. This condition not only interfered with her way of living, but it got in the way of her modeling as well.

Fresh from taking a break to get her health in order, Kori is back at it again and this time, she’s better than ever. Keep reading as Kori Leilani shares what led to her taking a hiatus from plus size modeling and how she plans to re-establish herself and find her footing.

——————————————————–Q&A——————————————————–  The last time we featured you was December 2012. What have you been up to since then?

Kori Leilani:  A lot has happened since then. I was actually signed with an agency back then. It was super exciting and such a great accomplishment for me.  After all the hard work that I put in working as a freelance model during the years prior, signing with an agency brought validation to the work I had put in.

How long were you working as a freelance model before you got signed?

I was a freelance model for 2 years. In those 2 years, I was able to start building my brand and I was able to network and make those important connections with amazing people in the industry and also made connections with clients and potential clients.

Image Source: Facebook

Image Source: Facebook

Are you still affiliated with the agency that you were signed to?

I am no longer signed with that particular agency. I ended that contract in December of 2013.

Have you been doing any modeling since parting ways with them?

No, I haven’t.

What made you stop modeling in 2013?

Well, there were a few reasons. One being the agency I was with was not a good fit for me. The other reasons were health related.

Do you mind sharing what health issues caused you to stop modeling?

Honestly, I was nervous about talking about my health issues when they were happening. I felt really bad about myself and I was embarrassed and ashamed about what I was going through. I don’t know anyone else that could relate to what I was going through. I had no one to reach out to that would understand. Now, I am ok and I am feeling good about the journey I went through and the journey I am on.  Sharing may help someone else that is going through a hard time.

I truly believe that our testimonies are placed on us for a reason and sharing not only helps us, but it can definitely help others.


Image Credit: McShmoogly Photography

Image Credit: McShmoogly Photography

At one point you had such a promising career and then we didn’t see much of you.  Walk me through what happened? 

It started back in 2011. I went in for a regular women’s exam but I had been complaining of some abdominal pain and discomfort. My doctor wanted to do an ultrasound to maybe see if there was something major going on. I had the ultrasound done, the next day went to see my doctor for the results. She stated that everything looked great as far as my organs and things, but she asked me “How long have you had Avascular Necrosis?” To me, it sounded like a foreign language. I asked what she was talking about. She told me on the ultrasound she saw that I had a disease called Avascular Necrosis and that may be what was causing the pains I was feeling. I told her I was unaware of this and was still a bit shocked once she explained what it was.

What exactly is Avascular Necrosis?

Avascular Necrosis is a loss of blood to your bones. Once you have no more blood flow to your bones.. your bones start to deteriorate until they are dead and no more. It can affect different areas like your shoulders, your knees, and your hips.

Were doctors able to determine how long you’ve had it?

They were never able to tell me how long I had had it but they were able to tell me that it was genetic.

How has it affected everyday tasks?

At first, nothing really changed. I kept doing what I was doing. Modeling, traveling, taking care of my daughter, working a full-time job etc.. I kept going like I normally would because at the time I had no idea what was being said to me and why. I was 28 years old and was told I had a degenerative bone disease.  That didn’t sit very well with me.

Eventually, I was told  that I would need to have a double hip replacement. At that time, I was not even trying to hear what he was saying. When I thought of hip replacements, I thought of 70 to 80-year-olds, not 28-year-olds. So I kept living my life as if nothing had changed.  My ortho told me then that I would need the surgeries,  but he would not push me to have them. He told me that when my quality of life was no more. I would know when it was time so I kept on with life. As I was traveling and on top of my modeling career, I started noticing changes.  The pain was so bad I couldn’t sleep.  I wasn’t able to play with my daughter like I had previously.

One day, I woke up and I was not able to walk on my own. I had to use crutches and then a walker to go from place to place.  I couldn’t do the most basic of things. I couldn’t dress myself from the waist down. I couldn’t tie my shoes, I couldn’t sit in chairs long and then I also couldn’t stand either.

Image Credit: McShmoogly Photography

Image Credit: McShmoogly Photography

Did you share this information with the modeling agency you were signed to?

I shared my health concerns with the agency, but I don’t think they understood the magnitude of what I was going through. I was told, “this kind of thing happens to everyone and that maybe if I lost weight, that would help with what was going on.” This kind of thing doesn’t happen to everyone and weight loss was not going to help what was already in process.  That was when I decided to part ways with the agency.  I wasn’t supported or understood which made it even harder to get through what I was experiencing.  So I sent my letter and I have been off the modeling grid since then.  Once I left the agency it was easier for me to concentrate on myself and really start to make the decisions I had put off for so long.

Is this disease common?

This is not a common disease. For people that have autoimmune diseases, it tends to happen more frequently.

That’s a lot to go through. Did you ever decide to have the surgeries?

I did. In September of 2014, I went ahead with the first surgery, which was of my left hip.  After the first surgery, I was super nervous. I didn’t know what to expect. Once I had the surgery the pain on my left side was gone. I had to learn how to walk again and correctly. Ultimately I was pain-free on my left side. What I realized once I had the left one done was how much pain I was really dealing with for so long. My left side was fixed but that meant I still had the right side to deal with. I didn’t realize how much pain I was really in until I had the first surgery done if that makes any sense.  So then came the next decision, when to do the right side.

I had the second surgery December of 2014.  I was, even more, nervous this time around.  I was just figuring out how to walk again and healing well [from the first surgery] and to think about having to go through this process all over again.   But I did it and I honestly wished I had done it sooner than I had.

What type of support is available for people with Avascular Necrosis?

There are groups and online support groups that you can look into. There may be local groups in the areas people live that you can reach out to. Also, check with your doctors and specialists about support too. My biggest support came from the loving people I have in my life.

Image Credits: Photographer, Lesley Pedraza; MUA, Angela January-Taylor; Stylist, Rhea Norman.

Image Credits: Photographer, Lesley Pedraza; MUA, Angela January-Taylor; Stylist, Rhea Norman.

Now that you’ve had both surgeries, what’s next for you?

It has officially been a year since my surgeries and I am feeling better than I have felt in a long long time. I had to think about what was next for me.  I wasn’t sure if modeling was in my future. Once I started to feel better and like myself again I began to think about how I felt when I was modeling and how I had started something great and to have it taken away from me without any of my control was hard.   I didn’t like how it had all panned out. So, with the help of the amazing people I have in my life I decided to give it a try one more time, and here I am.  Since I have no representation at the moment I am starting over, from the beginning.

I am testing again with photographers that I have built relationships with in the past and reaching out to people that have supported me along the way trying to build my brand again.   So much has changed in just a couple years I have been out of the industry.  I am trying to find my place and where I belong in this amazing industry we call fashion.

I think that’s such a wise decision. There are very few people that we’ve featured on our cover more than once, and you’re on that list. I can honestly say that there’s something special about you and I’m happy that you’re back.

Thanks so much Stephanie.  When I decided to pursue this again you were one of the first people I thought of to contact about getting back out there.  I just appreciate all of your support throughout the years.

You’re welcome. Are you still doing photography as well?

Photography!!!  YES!

Great! I will definitely keep my eye on you. I have a feeling that the seeds that you planted previously will help you this time around.  How do you feel after going through all of this?

It just feels so great to be me again. I had not felt like myself for a very long time and so now to know that I am healthy and pursuing a love that I was not ready to give up for good makes me feel amazing. I am lucky, not many people are. I came out of this better than I was going into it and for that, I will always be thankful. I have 2 amazing scars on my upper thighs to remind me every day that I can get through anything.. big or small. I have been

I have 2 amazing scars on my upper thighs to remind me every day that I can get through anything, big or small. I have been through the worst of the worst and came out even better than I was before. My advice to others is to keep going no matter what you may feel. You are not given more than you can handle, I am a witness to that. Here is to new beginnings and to an amazing new journey ahead!!

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