"You never know how strong you are until strong is all you CAN be." -- Boston Marathon survivor and friend Celeste Corcoran
This season is drawing to an end here and the sun may be setting on the days in which a large audience can opine on my strengths and weaknesses on a weekly basis.
So many of you may be wondering why the heck I even stepped into this ring. I am part of a community of people who have physical limitations. I believe we all have an obligation to inspire each other to go, do, live, thrive, and encourage others. My interactions on the show with Heather Abbott or giving Jake his new legs is what the show has really been about for me. The rest has been quite simply total nonsense.
There are nearly 2.5 million people living with limb loss in the U.S. Globally, there are more than 1 million annual limb amputations, which is one every 30 seconds. The Amputee Coalition of America estimates that there are 185,000 new lower extremity amputations each year within the U. S. Among those living with limb loss the main causes are vascular disease (54 percent), which includes diabetes and peripheral arterial disease, trauma (45 percent) and cancer (less than 2 percent).
There were 16 people whose legs were blown off in the Boston Marathon bombings. More than half of them were women, which is unusual in a country where men make up the majority of amputees -- losing limbs in car crashes, construction accidents, and combat.
Men often wear their metal prosthesis exposed while women tend to like realistic looking "skins" and high heeled legs like the ones viewers see me wear on television. All of these specialized limbs including running, swimming, skiing legs, and so on are often not covered by health insurance policies. If the specialized limbs are covered by some insurance companies then the question is for how long? It's rarely more than a few years.
When I was asked to visit the Boston hospitals a few weeks after the bombings, I was uplifted to see that despite the physical work and great expense that lay ahead for the survivors, evil did not prevail. People had survived. Where there is breath, there is life, and many were open to my message -- which was that life without limbs is limitless.
Amputees can live full, functional, and active lives only hindered by those health insurance companies that frequently don't pay for the basics, or the extras like skin and specialized sports limbs, which allow amputees to get back to normal and do the activities they want to do and feel psychologically whole. When a breast cancer victim has a mastectomy, health insurance always pays for reconstructive surgery, as it should for a woman to feel normal, whole, and feminine if she so chooses. Why is it any different for an amputee? Why should an amputee child ever be deprived of a running leg? Or a teenage girl rejected for a high heel leg for her prom? Or a man denied a special spring limb and so on. Basic walking limbs, running limbs, cosmetic limbs, swimming limbs for amputees of all sexes, ages whatever the cause are rejected by health insurance companies all the time. It is immoral, wrong, and must be changed. It has been my mission to not only mentor new amputees, but to raise money for those who need limbs that insurance companies won't pay for. It is a very tough battle.
The next issue for amputees is finding a great prosthetist. I spent years from the age of six to 30 in pain going from one wrong prosthetist to the next -- and also without the technology today that affords cosmetic limbs, special sport limbs, etc. There is an art to making a comfortable prosthesis. It is a very specialized field.
When I found A Step Ahead Prosthetics 12 years ago in New York I learned of their motto, which they take very seriously. It is "form follows function." That means, you must start with the fit. It must be comfortable and designed specifically to each individual, their issues, and their goals. Only then will they move onto the aesthetics part which is a science called Cosmesis.
With prosthetist Erik Schaffer at A Step Ahead Prosthetics, I finally found comfort, spring in my step and beautiful limbs. It was so freeing to finally be able to walk and run without pain. It was wonderful to feel pretty and to look down and perceive two lifelike limbs instead of just one. Erik Schaffer is the owner and lead prosthetist at A Step Ahead, who imparts expertise and kindness to so many amputees around the world. Eriks team is stellar, patient, and compassionate. I thank you all for my quality of life and for the tremendous work you do for all amputees.
A Step Ahead Prosthetics has an entire department that fights tirelessly for its patients with their Health insurance Policies to get proper coverage. They are amazing. But what about those amputees whose insurance won't cover limbs? What will those 16 marathon survivors do five years from now when their insurance policies won't pay for the basics or the extras? What about the other 2.5 million amputees in America? Don't they have the right to walk, swim, dance, wear skirts, heels and participate in triathalons if they so choose?
Heather Abbott was the first Boston Marathon amputee I met on my first Boston visit. Today I am proud to call her my friend. She was not allowing terrorists nor her limb loss to hold her back not even for a minute. Naturally, I brought her to Erik, and today she wears a cosmetic high heeled comfortable limb. I am priviledged to learn so much from new amputees and their plights. I feel lucky to be part of a community where character is learned through tough experiences and people are so grateful for the little things in life.