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Model Natalia Harris, who re-learned how to walk after bone cancer, dies at 24

After being diagnosed with osteosarcoma at the age of 12, Harris had to re-learn to walk in order to accomplish her dream of becoming a runway model.
/ Source: TODAY

Natalia Harris, a model and author who re-learned how to walk after surviving pediatric cancer, has died. She was 24-years-old.

"Yesterday, at 3:49 p.m., in the comfort of the oasis (sweet home), she created for herself, surrounded by our loved ones —in the midst of this pandemic, my Natalia took her last breath and I felt her last heartbeat for the last time," her mother, Egli Colón Stephens, wrote on Instagram announcing her passing.

A spokesperson for the family confirmed her passing to TODAY and explained the cause of death was renal medullary carcinoma, a rare cancer of the kidney that predominantly afflicts young adults and is almost exclusively associated with sickle cell trait.

"Our Natalia lived with purpose and intention," Stephens told TODAY via a spokesperson. "In her own gentle way, Natalia reminds me of Frank Sinatra’s song 'I did it my way.' She lived fully and in her short life shifted and touched so many others. She leaves a strong legacy behind."

According to her bio, Harris had participated in New York Fashion Week at Lincoln Center for a myriad of successful designers including Council of Fashion Designers of America Vogue finalist Rebecca de Ravenel. Harris was also featured on numerous seasons of "Project Runway," and had been featured in campaigns for Foot Locker, Delta Airlines and makeup brand Laura Mercier.

In 2019, she even landed herself a Vogue cover, appearing on the cover of Vogue Knitting magazine.

But Harris' true passion was spreading a message of hope to the world as a cancer survivor, or as she called it, a "cancer surThriver."

At age 12, Harris was diagnosed with cancer on her leg (osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer). In a 2015 personal essay for NBC News, Harris' mother explained that when her daughter was first diagnosed, she questioned her desire to still want to be a model.

"I realized later I was the fool," she explained. "Natalia's serious commitment to her dream was what gave her the strength to push through, win her battle, undergo many reconstructive surgeries and grueling physical therapy in order to walk the runway again."

Natalia Harris, who pursued her dream to become a model despite battling leg cancer.
Natalia Harris, who pursued her dream to become a model despite battling leg cancer.Courtesy of family

Exceeding expectations, she had three leg reconstructions, a titanium prosthesis and twenty cycles of chemotherapy to overcome the deadly disease. Because of all this, she coined "bionic woman" as her alter ego.

"I'm known for having a centipede looking-15' in. beautiful scar that runs down half of my leg and holds my internal titanium prosthetic limb," Harris explained before her death. "After undergoing a couple of leg reconstruction surgeries, surviving aggressive chemotherapy and rigorous physical therapy, my scar is a symbol of strength of when cancer tried to kill me but failed."

Harris co-authored a book with her mother, titled "Unbroken: A Mother-Daughter Journey of Resilience, Faith and Courage," that chronicled their shared battle against her cancer.

In her post on Thursday, Stephens said, "Natalia will forever live. She will forever be mommy’s cherry blossom."

"Cancer didn’t have the last word, she’s a princess warrior that lived life intensely — with purpose, passion, boldness, intention, determination, gratitude, love and pure joy. She won!"