Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Woman’s prosthetic leg shows spirit


Special to The Advocate Published: Sep 18, 2006

Advocate staff photo by Bryan Tuck

Kelly White gets lovingly attacked by her dogs recently on the front porch of her New Iberia home. White has not allowed her prosthetic leg to curtail everyday life’s chores, and says she someday hopes to begin a support group for those who have recently lost a limb. Left: White shows off her prosthetic leg, airbrushed with her and her husband’s nicknames.

NEW IBERIA -- Although most prosthetics are shades of tan or resemble a metallic extension, White’s left leg looks more like a vacation postcard, with dolphins suspended in a blue ocean.
White said she often receives questions and comments about her colorful leg, and she does not mind the curiosity.
She said she is proud of her leg and wants others with prosthetics to feel the same way.
“It doesn’t bother me to stand out,” said White.
White has had a prosthetic leg since an accident in 1995. While visiting Huntsville, Ala., she witnessed a car accident. A volunteer firefighter, White stopped her car and tried to help.
But while standing in front of one of the cars involved in the crash, another vehicle rammed it from behind and slammed into her left side. It was several days before she regained consciousness.
Doctors in Alabama tried for weeks to save her leg, but infection set in and White told the doctors to “go ahead and cut it off” just below the left knee.
Since then, White has learned to walk again, without a cane or crutch.
Last year White needed another leg, but she decided she wanted something that would stand out, especially when she wore shorts.
“I don’t like to wear long pants. I’m almost always in shorts,” she said.
She found a T-shirt with dolphins swimming in a deep cerulean blue airbrushed sea, and the technicians at Hangar Prosthetics & Orthotics in Lafayette laminated the shirt to her prosthetic leg.
She also had “TJ & Stumpy” written on it, for her husband and his nickname for her.
White’s two children and three step children accepted the loss of her leg early and helped her become comfortable with using her prosthesis.
She said they are even comfortable with their mother showing off her blue leg.
“That’s what kind of helped me through it all, knowing that they didn’t care (she has a prosthetic),” White said.
The 44-year-old White also gave thanks to her mother, Shirley McLean, and her brothers, Mark and Cleo McLean.
“Their support and being there for me when I fell was a big help. They literally helped me with the ups and downs that I had to go through,” White said.
She added that her late father, Bennie McLean, who died in 1990, had taught her from an early age to do for herself and not to depend on others.
She said she hopes her colorful leg inspires other amputees not to be ashamed of their prosthetics.
“I hope people see it and say ‘Why cover it?’ Don’t be ashamed of it, because you’re walking,” White said, adding that, apparently, people are getting the message.
White also has two other legs. One she wears at home that has a flat foot, and her “spare” that, like the decorated leg, has an arched foot. It is not decorated and is more naturally colored.
White said the prosthetic legs have a silicone sleeve with a pin that helps secure them to the leg stump.
John Harris, a prosthetic technician for Hangar, said that more people, especially those in the 20- to 40-year-old age range, are deciding to personalize their prosthetics, which can be made and adjusted in the office.
He credits the trend to popular television shows, like those on the Discovery Channel, that feature amputees and athletes being fitted for new, specialized prosthetics.
Wounded war veterans returning from Iraq are also gaining media attention for people fitted with prosthetic limbs.
“A lot of the stigma about prosthetics is lost,” said Harris. “The public is more informed.”
Black limbs decorated with red and orange flames seem to be one of the more popular styles, Harris said.
However, he has also seen a ranch brand on a leg, various patriotic themes and even one leg with a picture of an Indian on the side. He said that a technician can use “almost anything” or apply any color in the final layer of the prosthetic’s casing.
White said she does not believe decorated prosthetics will ever be a hit with older patients but that younger ones might show interest in them, because they can be personalized to be stylish or to show off the wearer’s individual personality.
She said she has seen the popular flames design and has heard of a man who used an iron-on T-shirt transfer to place a vintage-looking patriotic eagle on his leg.
Harris said he arranges for White to meet and mentor new amputees in the Acadiana area because of her energetic lifestyle and personality.
White, a Franklin native and 1980 graduate of Franklin High School, is still a volunteer firefighter and also takes calls for Acadian Ambulance.
“I’m always doing something,” said White. “I haven’t figured out how to relax.”
Story originally published in The Advocate

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