Anja Christoffersen is a woman of many roles; an international model, author, motivational speaker, medical advocate, consumer advisor, holistic counsellor and businesswoman – with her story showcased in media around the world. She balances these roles while managing her family business in International Student Recruitment, that her parents began together in 1995. Anja also has a life-long, congenital disability.
Anja was born with VACTERL Association, an acronym that describes a cluster of defects affecting multiple body systems, for which she has become a global ambassador. Diagnosed at 28 weeks of her mother’s pregnancy, her devastated parents began a search for answers. There was no known cause or guarantee of survival. The only definite was a need for surgical intervention, the first of many occurring at only 5 hours old.
Anja was affected in the following way:
(V)ertebral: Hemivertebra (half formed vertebra), extra lumbar vertebrae, congenital scoliosis, sacral agenesis
(A)nal Atresia: High Confluence Cloaca – only one common channel pelvic opening (most complex anorectal malformation), including duplicated reproductive organs (+ uterine didelphys)
(C)ardiac: Hole in heart at birth (no surgical intervention needed)
(T)rachael-O(E)sophageol Fistula: Fistula and oesophageol atresia, any food/water/saliva would go directly into lungs because there was no join to stomach
(R)enal - only one kidney
After many surgeries and hospital admissions throughout childhood, Anja began thriving. From the exterior she seemed like a typical child; happy, intelligent, curious and full of life, despite an underlying and constant medical battle.
Anja’s modelling career began at 16 when she was signed with a local Brisbane agency. Only the previous year she had been told by a major agency that her surgical scars meant she would never succeed as a model as she would not be able to ever show her stomach. After working extensively in the Brisbane fashion scene, Anja was signed with an international mother agency in the Netherlands and lived alone in The Hague for 2 months while chasing her dream. To the joy of her and her supporters, Anja booked and walked Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Amsterdam in July 2016, the day before her 18th Birthday – a feat that was never imagined to be possible with her medical history and scars. After her return home, Anja continued to model locally and interstate, including walking for Myer, Nicola Finetti and Niki Teljega.
In June, Anja competed in Miss Grand Australia, the 3rd largest beauty pageant internationally. She was the first person with a disability to make it to nationals for one of the 5 grand slam pageants. Anja was overjoyed to place MGA 1st Runner Up 2019.
After a trying year with her health in 2017, Anja was determined to connect with others who could understand what a life with VACTERL entailed. Entering into the world of facebook support groups, she shared a snippet of her story of success in the hope to be the role model she had wished she had growing up with the uncertainty and isolation of the disability.
It was Anja’s sharing of her story that propelled her career in motivational speaking, advocacy and consumer advisory. Shortly after Anja’s first international speaking engagement at the Pull Thru Network conference in Phoenix, Arizona USA in July 2018, she published her autobiography and ‘self-help’ book, ‘Behind the Smile: An Inspirational Journey from Disability to Ability’ (BTS). BTS has been read by people around the world, is available to purchase here, and also on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Angus & Roberston, Dymocks, Booktopia and other international retailers.
Anja is now a Youth Ambassador for the Continence Foundation of Australia (CFA), representing their Incontinence in Confidence project that targets adolescents experiencing incontinence. Additionally, she is an active member on CFA's national Consumer Advisory Committee. She is also a part of the Resource Development Team for the ONE in 5000 Foundation that is a worldwide resource for the anorectal malformation community.
Anja has presented about her disability, incontinence and overcoming obstacles and adversity at high schools and spoken at conferences internationally, most recently as a Keynote at the 4th International Conference on Patient Safety in Islamabad, Pakistan - where she was the first patient in the history of the conference to be involved in the ongoing discussion on improving patient safety practices globally. Anja also offers a range of services available to book, ranging from; one on one mentoring to professional development sessions for professionals working with people who are chronically ill, to consultation on projects within healthcare and education and personal development workshops in link with her qualification in holistic counselling and art therapy.
There are currently some exciting projects in the works that Anja is looking forward to sharing with you soon!