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  • Just One Foot: How Amputation Cured My Disability
    Just One Foot: How Amputation Cured My Disability
    by Judy Johnson Berna
  • Just One Foot: How Amputation Cured My Disability
    Just One Foot: How Amputation Cured My Disability
    by Judy Johnson Berna

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How Did You Know? (an essay from 2009)

I got a new foot last week. It's not the most common conversation starter, but the people in my life know how exciting those seven words are to me. I've had the same prosthetic foot since I lost my leg five years ago.


The flesh and bone foot I’d been born with didn’t do its job very well. To be fair, it didn’t have a chance to, burdened with the side effects of a mild case of spina bifida. Every year it grew more twisted and less productive. By my mid thirties I was wearing a plastic foot brace full time. So I gave up that disabled life and had it cut off. Like a hip replacement patient, I started over.


I loved that first  bionic foot. It did amazing things my old foot never could. It had energy return and amazing stability. Even the plastic foot shell, with its sun faded 'tan' stripes was pretty great. But new technology came along and I traded up. This new foot is as great as my old one and beyond great in new features. I have a better range of motion and as a result, I feel more in control of every step.


In the past few weeks I have discussed my bionic feet with several friends and co-workers. I explained to them how I had the docs cut off more than just my foot.  If I kept too much leg I wouldn't have clearance for all the technology I had my eye on. Many times I was asked, "How did you know that?"


How did I know that by taking off more of my leg I could get a more active life? How did I know what feet were out there, which ones really worked and which ones were just hype? It's a complicated question with a surprisingly simple answer. I knew because other people shared.


Early on in my research, years before I was brave enough to actually have my leg cut off, I was desperate for information. It's a unique slice of life. I had never known any real amputees. I had only seen the news stories, scattered through the years, of amazing amputee athletes and their astounding accomplishments. But I wanted to know about everyday life amputees, living and reacting to everyday situations. What was that life like? What things kept them active? (great feet, I found out) How did they adapt to life on one leg? And yes, how did they find their hardware?


The internet was pretty new to our household but with just a bit of googling I found an amazing amputee forum. It was filled with people from around the world, all living life with one or more limbs missing. Each had a perspective to share and each was brutally honest about what it was like. They had great tips for simple things like taking a shower and more complex things like choosing a five thousand dollar foot. I filled in their advice with research of my own but usually found their comments to ring true.


With their encouragement and their candidness I went forward with my surgery, confident I could handle what happened on the other side. That's how I knew it would be a good choice for me. That's how I knew about making sure you have clearance room for the good hardware. I knew because people I had never met before were kind enough to share their time and their knowledge.


I am generally an independent person. I like to figure things out for myself.  Support groups and sharing circles are not generally my cup of tea. But I learned through this journey that we all have a unique perspective on life. We walk around the planet with life lessons that others might find helpful. The beauty of the internet is that everyone can find their place. Being cautious of course, by digging around online you can usually find help for any area of life that seems to be tripping you up.


Maybe it’s because I am a private person that I was so amazed by these strangers who were so willing to reach across computer lines with such personal struggles. I was constantly surprised at the level of support that was offered to me by people I will never meet. I may never even know what they look like.  But their open spirits and priceless advice led me to a life I now cherish and I will forever be in their debt. I leap forward on my new bionic foot because they were brave enough to share.