Oakland Press

North Carolina teen Paige Winter and her father, Charlie Winter, give interviews to ABC newswoman Robin Roberts in a video broadcast in June on “Nightline.” (Courtesy ABC/abcnews.go.com/Nightline)

A tragic story made the rounds of major news programs this summer: Seventeen-year–old North Carolina teen Paige Winter lost two fingers and a leg in a shark attack. Her will to live kicked in as her father, a fireman and former Marine, dove into the water, stunned the shark and saved Paige’s life.

Since then, this remarkable young person has responded not with bitterness or self-pity, but a resolve to get on with her life in the best ways possible. Paige has the strength of youth and a great family on her side, but her loss of a limb is not an isolated incident.

The Amputee Coalition of America reports that approximately 185,000 amputations occur in the United States each year, and nearly 2 million people are living with limb loss in the United States. The main causes are vascular disease such as diabetes and peripheral artery disease, and trauma, like Paige experienced. Other causes include cancer and warfare, with many Wounded Warriors returning from combat with limb damage. Other individuals have partial or complete absence of a limb at birth.

Associated hospital costs are billions of dollars annually and the widespread diabetes in our society contributes to the alarming projection that our amputee population will more than double by the year 2050, to 3.6 million people, according to the Coalition.

Steps to recovery

Paige’s recovery will be a challenging one, but she won’t travel this path alone. The key steps to her journey include initial healing, developing a support system and, hopefully, being able to access and finance a prosthetic replacement.

The first weeks are critical in terms of initial wound healing and prevention of flexion contractures. Physical therapy can aid with maintaining the range of motion for joints, building confidence with balance and keeping up one’s overall strength.

Once the initial adrenaline boost wanes, an individual will thrive if they possess a positive attitude, along with a strong support network of family and friends, health care professionals and volunteer counselors. This support helps smooth out the inevitable emotional roller coaster someone will face.

The Amputee Coalition of America offers peer support and counseling, and tries to find someone of comparable age who has gone through the same injury or disease process. The Coalition also asks these individuals to later on volunteer themselves and “pay it forward.”

Chris Casteel is co-owner of Anew Life Prosthetics and Orthotics in Detroit and has been an advocate for the limb loss community since becoming an above-knee amputee in 1988 following a motorcycle accident.

The financial reality

Once stabilized, most individuals who lose a limb will seek a prosthetic replacement. Tremendous strides are being made medically and technically, but progress is expensive.

Today’s most advanced prosthetic legs, with computerized control of knee and ankle movements, can cost upwards of $60,000. Even a basic prosthetic leg can cost $20,000. Every patient will require several fittings of prosthetic sockets during the first year or two as bone and tissue remodel.

Younger children will require replacement limbs as they grow, and even someone more mature like Paige will need new limbs as the years move on.

The loss of a limb requires being invested in recovering emotionally and financially for one’s lifetime. Reimbursement is not assured for these prosthetics and related medical care, physical therapy or mental health counseling, even with medical insurance.

 Fortunately, we have witnessed wonderful progress in medical care and prosthetic technology, with much more on the way.

Paige Winter has already put the right foot forward with her positive attitude in the wake of her accident, and the real lesson for anyone with limb loss is that there is always a way to get where you need to be; even if you must take a somewhat different path.

Chris Casteel is co-owner of Anew Life Prosthetics and Orthotics in Detroit and has been an advocate for the limb-loss community since having an above-knee amputation in 1988 following a motorcycle accident. He can be reached at chris@anewlifepando.com.

This article was written for the Oakland Press and was originally posted here. For more information about how Marx Layne & Company can elevate your brand, please visit our expertise page here.