Saturday, July 03, 2010

Young Amputee, a Northbrook Auto Mechanic,
Gets Prosthetic Aid Via Central American Group

When a pair of Chicago prosthetists founded the Range of Motion Project in 2005 to provide artificial limbs to amputees in Central America, they picked Guatemala to serve as its hub of operations.

But the group’s reach extends well beyond that nation—even to local spots like Northbrook, where 24-year-old auto mechanic Justin Southwick has plied his trade while in a prosthetic leg made possible by ROMP.

The local connection came about after ROMP co-founder Eric Neufeld connected Southwick with David Speers, a certified prosthetist and orthotist working in the Schaumburg office of Scheck & Siress.

Southwick’s insurance company refused to cover the cost of a prosthetic leg. Neufeld, also a Scheck & Siress certified prosthetist and orthotist, told Speers he would send him the necessary parts, and Speers agreed to donate time to make a prosthesis and all adjustments as needed.

Meanwhile, Southwick and his family decided to make a no-strings attached donation to ROMP.

Since its inception, ROMP has received strong support from Scheck & Siress, the Chicago area’s largest private orthotic and prosthetic provider. The organization has helped fit about 750 people with prosthetic limbs and provided more than 1,800 with orthotic devices.

“ROMP’s mission is to serve people in need, and that need is universal,” Speers said. “Insurance costs are a major issue to so many people here in the United States. It feels good to be able to help someone overcome that hurdle.”

A 2004 graduate of Lake Zurich High School, Southwick and his wife, Megan, have one daughter, Alexis, and reside in Deer Park. When Alexis was two months old, in early 2008, Southwick began experiencing pain in his left leg.

The first sign of trouble came when the leg, just above the ankle, would get sore when he tightened his work boots or when he was on his feet all day. A series of examinations, X-rays and MRIs left a trail of puzzled doctors who thought the problem may have been a bone bruise or hairline fracture, among other possibilities.

Then, in May 2008, one ordered a biopsy and found a rare form of bone cancer in the tibia, or shinbone. The news shocked Southwick, who wondered how he’d be able to support his family and whether he’d be able to run and play with his daughter as she grows.

Reconstructive surgery and other surgeries followed, including the transplanting of a left thigh muscle, and two skin grafts from the other side of his thigh, into the affected area near Southwick’s ankle.

Southwick was in a wheelchair for two months, spending much of that time at home doing special workouts to prevent blood clots. In all, the graft worked for about four months. However, infections set in and on August 27, 2009, he had amputation surgery.

Further discouragement came when his insurance company stated that it would not cover the cost of a prosthetic leg. At this point, Speers and ROMP stepped up—Speers donating his time to fabricate a prosthetic leg, and ROMP furnishing the leg from previously used parts of other prosthetic legs.

About a month later, Southwick was fitted with his first prosthetic leg and returned to work at Thalmann’s Alignment, 1904 Willow Road. He drove cars to and from customers, answered the phone and performed other administrative work while he adjusted to his new leg.

Southwick has visited Scheck & Siress’ office in Schaumburg, 1701 E. Woodfield Road, about twice a month since then. Speers has made adjustments along the way to fitting him for a permanent prosthesis.

“Scheck and Siress has been great,” Southwick said. “David’s made the whole process a whole lot easier.”

This March, Southwick fell and damaged his prosthetic leg. He contacted Scheck & Siress, which “got me in there right away” to make the necessary adjustments, Southwick recalled.

“David won’t let you leave unless you know you’re walking right,” said Southwick. “He’ll make some adjustments so that it’s as perfect as it possibly can be before you leave his office. It’s nice to know that he truly cares.”

Meanwhile, Southwick has resumed his prior duties as a mechanic, enabling him to “work on cars as good as ever,” he said. Now his sights are set on running his own business and leading an active lifestyle in which he enjoys as much time as possible with his family and friends.

And when Alexis, now close to 2 ½ years old, asks her daddy to push her on a swing or play hide-and-seek, Southwick jumps at the invitation.

“I’m not looking to rebuild the world,” Southwick said. “I just want things to go back as much as possible to where they were, without having to take medications or see doctors all the time. Already, I’m pretty much there.”

For more information, to get involved, or to find out how to donate a used prosthesis to ROMP, contact any Scheck & Siress practitioner at any of the company’s 11 locations in the greater Chicago area.
Online, you can visit or

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