The territory of the unknown is one often accompanied by fear. This was the case for Kelley and Steve, when at 20 weeks into their pregnancy, they learned that there was an issue with their baby; its lower right leg had not developed correctly. The baby’s femur, the bone above the knee, was where the limb ended.
This unexpected news was difficult to process at first. They worried for the future of their child. How were they going to prepare for this? What questions did they need to ask? Suddenly, Kelley and Steve were thrown into a world they knew little about: the world of limb-loss and limb-difference.
As a prosthetist, there are constantly new products coming out that I have to evaluate and decide if this is better or different in any way. I get somewhat amused at the names that manufactures call their feet – the Panthera, the Triton, the Truper, the Renegade, Elation… A new one that I recently encountered is called the “Game Changer.”
Amy Purdy, from Dancing with the Stars, was in our office to see a 4-year-old boy named Beau get his new running feet. Beau has bilateral through ankle (Boyd) amputations and, as most people know, Amy has bilateral below-knee amputations. Amy is a Paralympic snowboarder and co-founded an adaptive snowboard program at Copper Mountain called Adaptive Action Sports. A snowboard instructor of the program went to school with Beau’s mother, which is how the connections were made between myself and Beau.
Beau is a shy kid and he LOVES Amy Purdy. He even calls her “Amy Purdy!” I’ve known Amy for quite a while now through our mutual participation in adaptive ski/snowboard events in Colorado. She reached out to me when she first met Beau and asked if there were any running feet options for kids because the feet Beau was using were very basic.
Beau and his mom first came to our office when I had an adult with bilateral symes amputations come in from New Mexico to receive his new Cheetah Xplore running feet (another amusing name). Beau was in awe as this guy ran and jumped without pain for the first time in 15 years. We filmed some video that reached over 13K views!
At that time, we put the opportunity of running for Beau in the hands of the insurance company, which would likely not cover them. However, I was then contacted by inventor Adam O. Adam O is a foot manufacturer of the Game Changer foot. This is a foot designed for adults that has unique materials and user adjustability in the heel. He let me know that he wanted to donate running feet to kids, and he was wondering if I knew of anyone who could benefit.
After thinking about Beau, I checked with his mom and they were all for it. Her only request was that Amy Purdy be there with her blades on the first day of Beau running. I contacted Amy and she was ecstatic. Since Beau was comfortable in his current sockets, I got him back in and was able to duplicate them and prepare them for game day. The pediatric running feet, I later learned, were the cutest things ever. Adam sent me a couple different sizes, and the smallest fit in the palm of my hand!
There was a lot leading up to that day, but what ended up happening was that Adam O and his camera man flew in on the same flight as Amy and her friend (they didn’t realize they were on the same flight from LA!). Another inspiring woman, Pam, with bilateral symes amputations was in our office a little earlier getting her new prostheses. We scheduled Pam strategically the same day, so she could meet everyone and be part of this exciting party of people. I had several of our residents attend for clinical support and for their own experience. We ordered pizza for lunch, and tried to get what we needed done, even though this meant we had to interrupting the conversations everyone was so enthralled in because of all the shared experiences!
The highlight of the day for me was seeing Beau get past being shy and decide to put on his new running legs, with game changer feet, for the first time and stand up to dance with Amy Purdy. He was so excited that he fell down giggling at one point. It took him around 15 minutes of walking, holding hands with adults, before he was ready to walk a short distance on his own to his mom’s arms. Shortly after that first solo journey, he was able to walk down the hall and even attempt to keep up with Amy Purdy, who was encouraging him to run.
We had some people from the hospital pop in as well. A PT came in and offered some tips to Beau about using his arms to build momentum. A PMR doctor came in and got to see some of the excitement and got to meet Adam and Pam. The PR department of the hospital where our office is located got very excited and called the news station. Unfortunately, at that point it was too late and Beau, his mom, and younger brother were so overwhelmed that it was time to leave.
This story is far from over. I bet that in a week Beau will be running without being taught and without people encouraging him, but WITH the right equipment: Good fitting sockets and appropriate feet.
Probably the coolest thing about that day was how all these people came together and built something bigger than imaginable and bigger than I could have on my own. I think it’s really important to seek out opportunities to put the right people together when there may be great things to happen.
LIM359 is a great example of a group of people who share a philosophy of recovery through helping each other. The group has evolved into more than just events and people who share limb loss/limb differences in common. It’s unexpected connections and a spirit of positive support that has made LIM359 what it is today.
That, to me, is a true game changer!
Being perceived as a strong and independent woman is something I have always clung to as very important in my life, even when I was a child. I don’t know if it’s something inherent or something I acquired as a kid growing up with a disability, but regardless of the genesis, it’s something I recognize in myself. Asking for help has historically been tough for me because I’ve always thought that if I ask for help it’s a sign of weakness, and that tarnishes my self-perception of being strong and independent.
Ironic then, that I’ve chosen triathlon as my sport of choice. Perhaps it doesn’t immediately make sense that triathlon would force me to let go of my above-described view of myself, but let me explain . . .
In most sports, I don’t need any help or accommodations in order to participate. These sports allow me to avoid the quandary of asking for help and weakening the perception I have of myself. For example, if I want to participate in a 5k run, I just register like everyone else and show up on race morning. In order for me to participate in triathlon, however, I have to contact the race director ahead of time to ensure they will be able to give me extra space in the transition area (I need a chair to sit on and space to put my sports-specific legs) and find someone (usually my husband, Zach) to act as my handler to help me get out of the water since I swim without my leg and hopping out of the water is pretty tough, especially when there are rocks at the swim exit. Triathlon is a sport that forces me to ask for help and rely on another person to carry out my race.
Triathlon has taught me that it’s okay to ask for help, and sometimes it even makes us stronger when we do. Without Zach’s help, I couldn’t successfully complete a triathlon. I certainly don’t think that him having to assist me out of the water changes his perception and makes him think of me as weak or dependent. To the contrary, I think it makes him see me as the strong and independent woman I want to be, and that’s certainly how it makes me feel about myself.
It’s more than just triathlon, though. I think so many of us think that asking for help in everyday life makes us appear weak. What we forget, however, is that everyone needs help with something at some point. As human beings, we can feel fulfilled when we help each other. Each one of us has different strengths and weaknesses. It does not make us appear weak or dependent to call on others when we need to utilize their strengths because that’s what we need in a certain moment or to complete a certain task. Let me rephrase that . . . asking for help does not mean you are weak, it just means you’re human and you accept that some else’s strength might be what you need at a specific time in your life.
I also believe that by asking for help from others, you are opening the door for those people that you’re asking to reach out to you when they feel that your strengths are what they need, whether that’s similar or completely different to the type of help you needed. For example, while Zach helps me with triathlons, I often help him with writing projects and sorting through issues at work.
It’s really a cyclical process, and you never know who you might be helping when you ask for help. Sure, you’re probably helping yourself, but maybe, just maybe, you’re also tangentially helping the person providing you with the help as well, whether that’s immediately or six months later when they come to you for help.
So, next time you hesitate about asking for help, remember that perhaps we can all be stronger together if we shed those misconceptions, go ahead and ask for that help you really need, and be ready to offer help to others when they need it in the future.
LIM359 members traveled 2 hours into the mountains west of Denver for horseback riding on August 22.
Thank you to everyone who came out for Hopfest on June 14th! We had a fantastic time and hope you did too! Extra special thanks to Coda Brewing Co., Fante Eye and Face Centre, Bulow Orthotic & Prosthetic Solutions/Creative Technology Prosthetics, PH7 Collective, Wheelchair Getaways of CO, and Dr. Howard Belon!