“Through it all, I’ve been an athlete,” declares Californian Joy Clays.
By through it all, Joy means two knee replacements, multiple infections and surgeries, and eventual amputation of her left leg above the knee.
The 33-year-old will not let her amputation keep her down. “I’ve been an athlete my entire life and I’m slowly getting back to it,” she said. “I’ve been in competitive body building, long-distance cycling, jogging/running, and power lifting. I want to just get back to what I did before.”
Assisting in this endeavor is John Hattingh, principal prosthetist and owner of the Prosthetic Care Facility of Va. “He is helping me out big time,” Joy said.
An amputee since summer of 2013, Joy prepared for her initial fitting by a nearby prosthetist. “I knew my amputation was going to happen so I did a lot of research on prosthetics, prosthetic companies, how the prosthesis worked, how they are made, everything from A to Z because I found the whole mechanical side of it very interesting. I understood how I was supposed to walk and I didn’t have any other problems after surgery, so I took to the prosthesis pretty quickly,” she said.
But the prosthesis supplied to Joy was not suited to her level of ability and didn’t provide any comfort. “It was a hydraulic knee and if I didn’t lock out the knee at every step, or if I didn’t have complete concentration every minute when walking, then I would end up on the ground.”
There were other problems, too. “The prosthesis he made me was almost an inch taller than my other side and that was giving me a lot of pain and blisters,” Joy said. “He shaped the socket differently to make me sit higher in it, which made it even more awkward. I just didn’t get what I needed from him and it was really awful.”
But what was really crushing to Joy was the prosthetist’s seemingly lack of compassion and understanding. “He didn’t really care about what my dreams are,” she said.
Joy took to an amputee website to vent her frustration. “I was commenting that I would most likely have to give up on being an athlete. I was in the dumps.”
Also on that website at the time reading her comments were John Hattingh and his wife, Michele, who is the Prothetic Care Facility’s administrator. The Hattinghs strongly believe that life doesn’t stop just because of an amputation and that staying fit and resuming an active lifestyle is important. They both reached out to Joy and after several discussions, determined she was a candidate for Destination Prosthetics – a special program for those who want to achieve mobility, but are unable to receive the rehabilitation care they need in their own community or from their own prosthetist. Destination Prosthetics is a means for them to receive intensive one-on-one treatment with no interruptions. Travel and accommodations are provided for those who qualify.
“Before I knew it, I was on a plane to Virginia to get my issues sorted out,” Joy said.
At Prosthetic Care Facility of Va., John took a new casting of Joy’s leg and fit her with a new socket and his loaner C-Leg. “Within an hour, I was walking around and very comfortable,” Joy said.
Destination Prosthetics keeps a wide range of feet, knees and micro-processors which they use as ‘loaners’, so patients can take their time trying out the components, before settling on what works best for them to achieve their goals.
Joy is looking forward to getting a permanent socket, which is still a process as she needs the proper documentation from her primary doctor and orthopedic surgeon. Michele takes care of getting all the necessary paperwork and authorizations for the treatment.
“There are certain things I still can’t do on this temporary prosthesis, but as soon as I get my permanent one, I plan to go wild,” Joy said.
Joy’s ultimate goal is get back into body-building competition. “I previously competed as a body builder here in California and I was going to take it to the next level when this happened. I just started weight lifting again and I am working on my diet, so I need to give it another year before I’m ready.”
She has been working to achieve her goal for several months, walking a mile to the gym and working out with weights and the treadmill before walking back home. “Thanks to John, I’m getting back to the sports I love before. I’m also getting a bike with the left pedal modified so my prosthetic leg clips into the foot holds so it doesn’t fall off and then I want to do rock climbing and hiking,” she said enthusiastically.
“I’m so glad for the Hattinghs … I just appreciate so much all the work they are doing to help me.”