Cara Elizabeth Yar Khan always knew she wanted to be a humanitarian. As a young girl, she studied foreign languages, got involved in countless volunteer activities, raised money, and spoke up for the rights of children. Her hard work paid off. Shortly after graduating college, Yar Khan went to Ecuador with the United Nations, launching a humanitarian career that has so far spanned more than 15 years and 10 countries.
Life doesn’t always go according to plan, however, and at the age of 30, Yar Khan was diagnosed with hereditary inclusion body myopathy, an extremely rare muscle-wasting disease. At first, Yar Khan didn’t want people to know about her diagnosis. She was afraid people would doubt her abilities, and she was determined not to let it hold her back. She continued to work in the field, living in countries such as China, Angola, and Haiti. But as the disease progressed, she began to open up about her experience.
“My body is dying, and I am the best that I will ever be—physically—today. There’s no approved treatment or cure for this disease,” says Yar Khan, 41, who lives in metro Atlanta and has become a leading voice for people with disabilities. “I very much look at my life as where can I make the greatest impact?”
She regularly shares her story in public, striving to live by example. She wants people to know that life doesn’t stop because of a diagnosis or disability. It continues, in beautiful and sometimes surprising ways. Through her work, Yar Khan met the man she recently married. They plan to honeymoon in Somalia. She also plans to continue her advocacy work, calling on leaders to break down barriers to inclusion. “Everybody has something to contribute and if you’re excluding people with disabilities, you’re missing out on a lot of fun—and a lot of potential,” she says.