Because I was born with one leg shorter than the other, I have always worn a brace. It remained roughly the same into my teens, but two major innovations occurred in high school. One: some clever brace maker (did I mention that they are creative as all get-out?) figured out a way to hinge the brace at the knee. Yay! I could bend my knee! Major breakthrough Two: I figured out how to put a zipper in the inseam of slacks so that I could get pants over the brace. I could wear slacks!
The final innovation didn’t occur until college when the extension of steel above my knee was removed completely, and I was left with only the lower part of the brace. No need for a hinge; no need for zippers. It probably weighed half of the original.
One major vulnerability remained, however: the steel footplate. My husband and I were traveling to visit my grandmother in rural Alabama when the steel footplate snapped in two. You’d think steel could manage the weight of a young woman, but it snapped. Where does one go in rural Alabama to get metal repaired? A blacksmith! Who, in fact, soldered or welded the thing back together enough for us to complete our trip.
It snapped again when we were visiting Florence. Yes, that Florence. No blacksmiths available, but the orthopedic department of a Florentine hospital managed to glue me back together enough to carry on. The orthopedist who helped me found me and my brace quite exotic and asked many, many questions. He spoke bad English and I spoke no Italian, so I don’t know how much medical information I was actually able to impart. After that, I had the footplate reinforced with a steel rod. It has not broken since.
Recently, one of my braces (I had two working models) broke. That is, the steel upright cracked…unusual, but there it is. No one makes braces like mine anymore; the last time I had a brace made — maybe 35 or 40 years ago — they sent to Detroit to have it fabricated, but even that alternative is no longer available. So for the first time, I really didn’t have a prosthetist. But it’s just metal, right? People who work with metal could fix it, right? Yes! Fortunately, I found a wonderful metal fabricator in Brooklyn. He makes things out of metal, like metal shelves for vinyl records. It’s a niche market that he has cornered. This wonderful man agreed to try fixing up an old, retired brace to see if it could be a stand-in in case my “good” one broke. David did a stellar job — one of the best prosthetists I have ever had. I keep his card with me always!
I am thankful to all of the prosthetists who have taken care of me and my brace over the years. When I was a child, it was an emerging profession. The field has made marvelous advances over the years, but it remains hard to find a prosthetic device as individualized as mine has had to be. David is now my go-to miracle man.