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Russellville Elementary Student Works to Publish Inspirational Book

BY DENISE WILLIAMS, Tribune Staff Writer

Chuck Hale / Citizen Tribune
PHOTO: Billy Love, right, shows a prosthetic hand to Russellville Elementary School fifth grader Carter Keith.

Writing a believable book takes a lot of things – sympathetic characters, a believable story line and that all important “write what you know.”

So when Carter Keith, an 11-year-old fifth grader at Russellville Elementary School got an idea for a book, his mom, Joanna, encouraged him to get started.

Joanna Keith said Carter got an idea for a prosthetic arm and did some drawings. He then began working on developing his core characters and decided to focus on a unique area – superhero-type kids each facing a physical or medical disability.

It’s an area Carter is all too familiar with, his mom said. Carter, who has diabetes, wears an insulin pump and his older sister has osteogenesis imperfecta, a congenital bone disease that causes her bones to break easily.

Instead of writing a story for school, Carter opted to write his book and have it published so he can bring awareness of different disabilities to the attention of children who have none.

“He’s very empathetic,” his proud mom said, adding that even as young as 5, Carter was sensitive to the pain of others.

“I feel other people’s pain,” he told his mother.

So far, Carter has completed character profiles on each of his characters and prepared backstories on each. The four main kid characters include two amputees – one missing an arm and the other missing a leg – a character with an insulin pump and one who requires a feeding tube.

Like all good writers, Carter decided he needed to do some research to make his characters as real as possible. So he had his mom call the folks at Southern Orthocare for a grand tour of the facilities to learn about the challenges amputees face.

Carter and his mother met Billy Love, a double-amputee since childhood who now works with other amputees.

Love showed Carter the first artificial leg he wore as a child and showed him a poster from 1966 when Love was the Shriner’s poster child.

“Since I wear them, I felt I could get other people up and going,” Love told Carter.

During the tour, Carter saw how models of the patient’s residual limb are made so the new leg can be customized to fit perfectly. He was shown a completed leg, the outer shell of which is made of carbon fiber, “the same thing used on the nose of the space shuttle,” Love said.

He was also shown a prosthetic hand which allows a person who has lost a hand to have a strong grip while having the dexterity to pick up an egg without breaking it. Love said the new prosthetic hands contain some of the newest advances in the field.

Love told Carter that wearing a prosthetic is sort of like having a super power because they allow you “to overcome things that happen to you in your life and to use those things to your advantage. It’s not necessary that disabilities are disabling.”

Because Carter’s characters will be kids like himself, he was curious about how often they need new legs and about how they adapt to losing a limb.

Love said that because children continue to grow into their late teens, the rule of thumb is they often need a new limb every two years because of growth and development. Even adults may need changes to their limbs following large weight gains or losses or after revision surgery.

Love also said it’s not unusual for a patient facing the loss of a limb to initially feel depressed, but it’s important to remember where their strength comes from.

“Your book is going to be an inspiration,” Love told Carter.


Enabling a Journey of Hope

BY DENISE WILLIAMS, Tribune Staff Writer

Chuck Hale / Citizen Tribune
PHOTO: Annual Amputee Bluegrass & BBQ

When Sam Burnett was 35 years old, the gas truck he was driving turned over and traveled 796 feet down an embankment in North Carolina. Seriously injured, he laid there for 16 hours before he was found.

His left leg was mangled in the crash and doctors in three states worked for a year attempting to save the leg.

Ultimately, the leg was amputated below the knee and 13 or 14 prosthetic limbs later, few people even know Burnett has an artificial leg.

Following his accident, Burnett was told he'd never drive a truck again. But 13 months later, he was back behind the wheel.

Today, he does all the things he loved to do before losing his leg.

"I ride horses," he said. "I do it just a little bit different, but I do it."

Burnett still rides motorcycles and even wondered if he could water ski with one leg.

In fact, Burnett's wife, Angela, said he's so wide open, she often worries he might hurt his "good" leg.

Of the things Burnett considers himself, the one word he doesn't use is handicapped.

"The word I hate is handicapped," said David Cloud, Licensed Proshtetist/Orthotist at Southern Orthocare in Morristown. "They're (our patients) are not handicapped. They have the ability to do what's in their heart to do. It's challenging, but it's not a handicap."

Few people know that better than Billy Love, Southern Orthocare Amputee Advocate and Certified BOC Prosthetist, as well as Hamblen County Deputy Coroner.

Love is a bilateral, below-the-knee amputee who got his first set of prosthetic legs when he was 5 years old. Back then, he said, artificial legs were still made of wood. Love said getting used to new limbs was a challenge because the residual limbs had to conform to the old time sockets in the artificial limbs.

Today's amputees have it easier with custom-made sockets and lighter compounds used to construct the limbs.

While having artificial limbs for the majority of his life presented Love with challenges, he didn't allow it to hold him back.

"I had fun with it," he said, adding that he played football at the University of Tennessee.

As a lifelong amputee, Love is able to offer his patients a new perspective – he's actually walked a lot more than a mile in their shoes.

"We see a lot of different people who are in different shape," he said. "We want them to leave to leave here in better shape than when they came in."

Joe Huntsman, owner and chief executive officer of Southern Orthocare, said, "What we do every day is to enable our patients to walk at their greatest potential. We're honored to be on the journey with them. Our patients, they're our heroes. They have faced odds in life that many of us can't imagine."

One of the most severe challenges any of their patients has endured lately was faced by Justin McCracken, who lost both legs above the knee after he was hit by a train.

"They didn't expect Justin to live through the first night," said McCracken's wife, Paige. "It was traumatic."

Love agreed. He saw McCracken in the hospital that first night.

"I left him in the hands of the good Lord because I didn't know," Love said. "I had my questions whether Justin would bounce back from this."

"It was hard to get used to," McCracken said. "It seems like I'm doing OK."

McCracken said the hardest thing to get used to is balance.

During his recovery, the prosthetists started him out with stubbies, a one-piece knee with rocker bottoms used to help patients learn to walk again. As the patients gain balance, they are started off with shorter-than-normal legs, which increase in length as the patient's balance gets better.

Prior to his accident, McCracken was six-feet, two-inches tall. With his current legs, he's up to five-feet, five inches tall.

"Every time he gets a little bit taller, I cry," his wife said, adding that she's anxious for the day when she can once again look up at her husband.

McCracken's determination to walk again has kept the couple going.

"Ninety percent of wearing a prosthesis is determination," Walker said.

As much as McCracken has been a determination for the team at Southern Orthocare, Love said he believes bigger things are in store for him, as well.

"Justin won't know what kind of inspiration he is to other people. He's going to be a big inspiration to somebody else," Love said. "He's a young man and he has a lot of life ahead of him."

Huntsman said caring for amputees is a long-term relationship.

"They become part of our family," he said. "What we do every day to enable our patients to walk at their greatest potential. We're honored to be on the journey with them."

For Love, working with amputees has given him a new lease on life.

He had taught science and biology and worked as a football coach at East High f or 18 years before having a heart attack and bypass surgery. He was retired when one day he got a call from Huntsman, a long-time family friend.

"Let me take you out to eat," Huntsman said in that phone conversation. "He just made me an offer I couldn't refuse."

Love said he had searched for years looking to find his place on Earth. When he realized what he brought to the table for other amputees, "it dawned on me the Lord had a place for me.

"I'm thankful to be here for all my heroes," Love said.

One part of the job involves acting a guinea pig for new technology. Love said he keeps abreast of the latest gadgets and devices. If something seems promising, he orders it and tries it out on himself. If he incorporates the technology into a limb for one of his patients, he can tell them firsthand what to expect.

While the initial days following the loss of a limb can seem dark, Burnett, McCracken and Love agree on one thing.

"The big message is hope," Huntsman said. "For someone's who suffered limb loss, there's hope."

"People are about as handicapped as they want to be," Love said.


A Chance to Stand Up and Do It Again

Rough and tumble' Singleton finds new lease on life after accident - BY BETHANY BROWN, Tribune Staff Writer

Jason Kinsler / Citizen Tribune
Joe Huntsman Jr, owner and CEO of Southern Orthocare (left), with Craig Singleton, proud owner of a new prosthetic leg that he received through Southern Orthocare.

As active as Craig Singleton was before the accident that took his leg, losing a limb sounded like a death sentence.

"I'd kill myself'" he once told a quadriplegic friend.

But Singleton found ways to keep active after losing his leg at the hip joint in a motorcycle accident last year, hopping from his hospital bed to the bathroom only five days after waking from the coma caused by his accident.

"He hopped faster than most people walk," said Joe Huntsman Jr., owner and CEO of Southern Orthocare where Singleton recently acquired a prosthetic leg.

Working through the changes, Singleton walked around the Southern Orthocare offices on his new leg while he told his story, often interrupting his tale to confer with one of the staff members about how it was working.

A staff member would take that feedback into his computer, programming the computer chip in Singleton's knee that measures his weight and tilt as he moves, accommodating for rapid changes in speed and the surface being walked on, according to Carey Bunch, a Board Eligible ABC Certified Orthotist and Prosthetist who has worked with Singleton through Southern Orthocare

But the metamorphosis Singleton has been through physically since his July 12 accident barely scratches the surface of this gregarious man who now swings confidently around on his new leg.

The 33 days he spent in a coma completely altered Singleton's spirit.

According to Singleton, before July 12, he was not only incredibly active with fishing, martial arts, and a number of outdoor activities, but he was a daredevil.

"Rough and tumble," figured in to Singleton's description several times as he recounted a membership in a motorcycle gang, prison time and a number of marriages.

But everything changed during the coma, when among other visions he recounted, he saw God come to him and say "you're mine."

And regardless of the collapsed lung, split helmet and massive blood loss he sustained, after his vision, Singleton woke up and began immediately to beg to go home.

Now, Singleton's outlook on life couldn't be more different.

His priorities in his new life are spending time with his family, cooking for them, working odd jobs as much as he can and telling others his story.

He said he has the opportunity to "show what God can do."

"I find myself reaching out to the rougher crowd," Singleton explained. "If I can just change one person's outlook to let them know God loves them."

And Singleton is already inspiring others.

"We've been so blessed to get to know Craig and have been so inspired by the story. At his lowest point that a person could ever get to ... his spirit gives so much hope," said Huntsman.

Singleton returned the compliment, saying he could not have succeeded in his newest endeavor without the family-like support system provided through Southern Orthocare. According to Jason Joyce a Tennessee licensed prosthetist and orthotist with Southern Orthocare, the company had more help providing this care.

"We were fortunate to work with Gerald Stark of Fillauer on Craig's case. Gerald is one of the most qualified practitioners in the country for hip disarticulation patients," said Joyce.

Practioners from Southern Orthocare explained that this kind of injury makes it much more difficult to recover since patients must use completely different muscles to walk.

But ultimately, Singleton thanks a higher source for his new abilities "I give the most credit to God," he said. "God created me to do this."

And Singleton's gratefulness to God spilled over into offers to give back and encourage other people who need to hear his story, in addition to maintaining some of his former daring as he tries out cutting edge technology on his leg.

"Put me on the crash dummy list," said Singleton.

He explained that his life is still incredibly active as he pushes the limits of what pain and doctors' orders allow.

"God gave me a chance to stand up and do it again," he said.