(Carson, CA) Martha Bretado and Rachel Kroener, both graduating from the California State University, Dominguez Hills (CSUDH) Orthotics and Prosthetics program with their master’s degrees in health sciences, know that prosthetics is about much more than new artificial limbs.
As people who have physical disabilities themselves, the two students understand the importance of fostering community with their patients and showing them life’s full range of possibilities. They became close friends during their time in the CSUDH program, having bonded over their shared experiences and passion for the disability community.
Bretado, who was raised in the City of Industry, Calif., and currently lives in Huntington Beach, was born five months prematurely with Amniotic Band Syndrome, which resulted in the congenital loss of her left leg and several partial fingers. As a child, she was fascinated by castings during her prosthetic leg fittings, and wanted to learn more about the process. In retrospect, Bretado wishes that she had known other people with limb loss or disabilities—at times, her condition made her feel isolated.
“Growing up, I never met anyone with an amputation,” Bretado said. “At certain ages, I shielded myself from the world a little bit. I wanted to cover my leg and not talk about it.”
As she got older, Bretado became more comfortable with talking about her experiences. She decided in high school that she wanted to become a prosthetist, and went on to earn her bachelor’s degree in health sciences at CSUDH in 2016 before joining the graduate program. She has also been a peer mentor with the Amputee Coalition since 2014, and brings a special type of empathy to her prosthetics patients.
“When patients know I have a limb lost, they get very excited,” Bretado said. “I know what they go through. I’ve had practitioners who never listened to me and made me feel little.”
“I tell other students what we need to focus on more as clinicians, and that’s having an open mind and really listening to your patients,” she added. “I love the feeling of making people’s lives better, and that’s what I want to do for every patient.”
Kroener, who was raised in Scottsdale, Ariz., has always used a wheelchair due to cerebral palsy. A self-described “big advocate” for adaptive sports, she began playing wheelchair basketball at age 10—an experience which she says “opened up the whole world.”
Kroener added track and field to her athletic endeavors, earning multiple awards for discus, javelin, and shot put, and attended the University of Texas at Arlington to play on the women’s wheelchair basketball team. Being part of a tight-knit disabled community was hugely impactful for Kroener, who was inspired by her fellow teammates.
“They were independent, married, had kids, worked full-time jobs—that was really cool to see,” she said. “It showed me what was possible.”
Kroener has also shared her enthusiasm for adaptive sports with Bretado, who said she wishes she “had known what is out there” earlier in life.
Kroener and Bretado look forward to continuing bringing their expertise and empathy to the field post-graduation. They share a vision in which people with disabilities are afforded with respect and understanding, and difference is normalized.
“People tell me, ‘I’m sorry,’ and I’m like, ‘why?’” Bretado said. “This made me who I am. I’m a passionate person who loves people, who wants to always help people. That’s not something I’m sorry about.”
Image: Bretado (left) with Kroener (right) in graduation regalia.