Life Without Limits
I was born in 1993 in the small town of Chardon, Ohio. I was as healthy as could be, weighing in at 6.5 oz. However, I was born without a right forearm directly below the elbow. Technology at the time was unable to detect this physical imperfection. My parents found comfort and help at Shriners Hospitals for Children in Erie, Pennsylvania. There, doctors and occupational therapists went above and beyond to help me develop and adjust throughout my early life.
In addition, at no cost to me or my parents, Green Prosthetics and Orthotics in Erie, PA provided me with body-powered prostheses as I grew, so that everyday tasks could be made easier. I can recall stressful yet progressive occupational therapy sessions learning how to tie my shoe laces with a prosthesis, exercising my stump with strength bands, and using my prosthesis to connect or tear apart Legos. The support given to me by Shriners and Green can never be understated. Through their hard work and commitment, they change lives for the better.
Outside of Shriners and occupational therapy, I remember not being very enthused or interested in wearing my prosthesis. I found it more comfortable to go without it on most occasions, especially as a child. While in school, I had many friends and did not experience much teasing. The occasional stare in public, or a question like “What happened to your arm?” would arise, and I would always optimistically spew my rehearsed line, “I was just born that way!”
I was always able to prove to those around me that I was just as capable as anyone no matter what I was doing. My positive attitude and determination was what people saw in me, and it led them to the conclusion that no physical limitation can hold someone back. I played right field in baseball and I had a process. I was (obviously) left handed, and wore my glove on my left hand. When a fly ball came my way, I would catch the ball, quickly take it out of my glove, throw down the glove, and then throw the ball, all in about three seconds.
As I got older, I became interested in my prosthesis again and began using it more often. I saw it more as an asset and a tool than a burden. I expressed an interest in the outdoors to the professionals at Green Prosthetics, particularly in hunting, and they constructed a special Y-shaped attachment for my prosthesis so that aiming a shotgun or rifle was much easier. My unique “hunting” arm has helped me in bagging a variety of animals.
In high school, I became involved in a multimedia class where camerawork, editing, and broadcasting was a heavy focus. Our class would live-broadcast home basketball games with cameras all around the gym, and I took advantage of a shoulder mount for my camera which made the recording process smoother.
Many saw my willingness to be both behind and on-camera while having one arm as inspiring; a level of comfort that was beyond their own. I was featured in my local newspaper because of this, where I stressed the importance of never giving up and to always try new things.
In 2011, I received a brochure from Shriners Hospitals for Children in Salt Lake City, Utah. The brochure advertised an “Un-Limb-ited” 89-mile whitewater rafting camp on the Green River. Up until this point, I had never met or interacted with peers who were also missing limbs. I knew how I handled and dealt with my gift, but not how others did. I applied for the camp and was accepted. As a camper on the trip, I experienced so much for the first time. My first flight, my first extended time away from home, my first time across the country, my first time rafting, and my first time bonding with and sharing stories with fellow amputees. My time spent with the campers and counselors was eye opening and a true inspiration to me as I gained new insight on living as an amputee. The wilderness adventure on the rapids and sleeping under the stars was a bonus, too!
That winter, I had the same opportunity with the same camp, only this time at Park City Mountain Resort in Park City, Utah. I made new friends and learned how to snowboard, which was exhausing but worth it. I probably fell down more than I surfed on snow, but I never gave up. My love for the Utah “Un-Limb-ited” camps encouraged me to return as a counselor in 2015 and 2017, where I’ve helped to encourage and empower teenage amputees. I strongly recommend this experience, and you can find out more by going to http://unlimbitedcamp.org/
More recently, I upgraded from a basic, body-powered prosthesis to a myoelectric prosthetic arm from Ottobock. Once fitted, I flex specific muscles on my stump, which activates electrodes in the arm to open or close the hand, as well as rotate the wrist, according to which muscle I flex. This prosthetic has been a game changer for me, and has allowed me to go beyond what I could do with a body powered prosthesis. My search for more advanced arms never stops though. I am always on the look-out for advancements in technology, and hopefully one day I’ll be able to use an even more advanced prosthetic arm at an affordable cost. I believe that prosthetic limbs are a necessity, not a luxury.
As of 2017, I have graduated from Kent State University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Communication. I have interned as a writer and reporter for JET 24 & FOX 66 in Erie, PA, and would one day like to pursue that career. I currently live in Columbus, Ohio and work for City Year, an education based non-profit through AmeriCorps, where I work with 8th grade students to keep them in school and on track to graduate. My life has been far from perfect. I face the same, everyday struggles and stresses that everyone goes through.
But my message to you is this: Never give up. There are no excuses in life. You are not limited, whether it be physically or mentally. Reach out for support, if you need it. You are never alone. Find inspiration in the little things. Above all: live life to the fullest, without limits.