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Ellijay, GA
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Positive attitude helps teen with physical setback


Ellijay teen Nicholas Francek, top, attended the six-day Paddy Rossbach Youth Camp in Ohio in July. Sponsored by the Amputee Coalition, the event gave kids from across the country who are dealing with limb loss or limb difference the chance to participate in a variety of outdoor activities ranging from swimming to archery. Francek is pictured below with other camp attendees and tackling a ropes course while wearing his prosthetic. (Contributed photos)
 

 

 
Positive attitude key for teen overcoming physical setback

by Whitney Crouch
wcrouch@timescourier.com

Within three weeks of undergoing surgery to amputate his right foot, Nicholas Francek was playing soccer with the help of a walker.

Now at the age of 14, the Gilmer County teen continues to exhibit a positive attitude and desire to not let the loss of his limb impact his quality of life.

“Keep going. Don’t stop,” he offers as encouragement to people dealing with difficulties. “When you’re trying to do something just don’t quit. Keep trying and trying and trying.”

The path to choosing amputation

Nicholas was born with a club foot and a congenital defect that resulted in the necessity of the amputation.

“My leg stopped growing,” the teen explained.

To combat the problems early on, as a youngster he underwent four surgeries and had to have a new cast put on his leg every week for two years.

“Every Friday he had his cast taken off and every Monday he had a new one put back on ... that was from five days old until (age) two,” recalled his mother, Monel Francek. “They had to basically stretch his tendons. They did tendon lengthening surgeries and then they started ... slightly breaking it every time just to lengthen it or just get it back to normal.”

While he could run and walk, as the years passed it became apparent that the Franceks would have to make a choice as to what course of action would be best for Nicholas’ future.

The doctors explained there were three options.

The first was to do nothing and let the difference in his leg lengths continue.

“Because of the growth difference, his hips would have been out-of-line, so he would have been in a wheelchair for the rest of his life,” Monel explained.

Alternatively, Nicholas could have endured repeated leg lengthening procedures.

His mother described this treatment as “insanely painful.”

“It’s 90 days of separating the leg over and over and over,” she explained, noting that because of the difference in Nicholas’ legs, he would have had to have the surgery multiple times. The result would have been that his bones would become “so brittle he would have ended up in a wheelchair.”

The final possibility was amputation, after which prosthetics of different lengths would compensate for the leg differences as he aged.

Nicholas was nine years old at the time and his parents wanted it to be his decision.

Monel recalled how they tried to describe the consequences of the different options in ways he could understand, such as “we can do leg lengthening and you’ll be as tall as mommy or we can do amputation and you can be as tall as daddy.”

“He actually had an amazing attitude during it ... I freaked out,” Monel shared when asked about her reaction to his decision to choose amputation. “For me I just worried about the rest of his life, what it was going to be like for him. Will he be able to drive? ... we worried about what people were going to treat him like afterward. He walks so normally that with pants on people don’t even know, but we didn’t know that (at the time) ... what about sports? What about just everyday life?

“We didn’t know how many surgeries he was going to have afterward. A lot of amputees end up with bone spurs, and they have to get revisions and get their leg shortened and shortened in multiple surgeries. Nicholas was extremely lucky and has not had any follow-up surgeries. He had his amputation, and it healed perfectly.”

Following the surgery, Nicholas missed only four weeks of school, and six weeks after surgery, he received his first prosthetic.

“He had the choice to stay (at home) until he got his leg and he didn’t, which is amazing,” his mother remembered. “He actually stayed incredibly positive the whole time ... kids handle it better than adults.”

Keeping a positive attitude

Monel noted many amputees struggle with fear about what they can and cannot do and ultimately become inactive. That has certainly not been the case with her son, however.

Nicholas stays busy walking his dogs, riding his bike, jumping on trampolines, swimming, snowboarding and whitewater rafting.

“We didn’t realize how normal an amputee’s life is,” his mother observed.

While the family had expected Nicholas to be limited in many ways, Monel observed that thanks to a few modifications and his prosthetic, “There are no limitations.”

As she said in a recent interview, “His positive attitude and spirit have only grown stronger since his amputation, and he’s never let the loss of his foot get in the way of his fun.”

Referencing a recent blockbuster movie dealing with limb regeneration, Nicholas observed that he would not want to replace his prosthetic with a real foot.

“I like having the prosthetic. It feels nice ... (and I use) less soap,” he quipped.

As the Franceks explained, such observations are common in their household as they they always try to look for bits of humor in a situation.

“We’re probably one of the odder amputee families,” Monel observed. “We tend to joke around a lot about it, so it made it a lot easier (to adjust).”

As an example, she shared how early on they speculated as to whether or not Nicholas would swim in a circle following the amputation.

“He doesn’t,” she added with a smile.

From being able to get twice the wear-time out of a six pack of socks than most people to saving time in the morning by not having to tie both of his shoes, Nicholas tends to notice the good things about his amputation rather than focusing on the negatives.

“He has stayed positive,” verified Monel.

Navigating challenges

For all the positives, however, there are certainly downsides and struggles associated with limb loss.

Since his leg issues are congenital, Nicholas already has decided that he wants to adopt children instead of having his own for fear of passing on his condition to a new generation.

He also knows that throughout his life he will have to navigate the challenges presented by insurance companies.

As Monel noted, some corporations are pushing for changes in how often amputees can receive a new prosthetic.

“Nicholas has to get a prosthetic once a year, and when they’re younger than their teen years, they have to get them almost twice a year because of their growth,” the mother observed, adding there is a current push that “will make it insanely hard for amputees on Medicare to actually get prosthetics.”

And then, of course, there are the stares and comments from strangers.

“I think it’s rude,” Monel emphasized.

But Nicholas, who is not self-conscious about his prosthetic and has no problems wearing shorts in public, admitted, “I think it’s kind of funny ... It’s funny sometimes because people aren’t quiet when they’re trying to whisper (about me).”

Resources offered by the Amputee Coalition

One of the most beneficial resources the Francek family has found is the Amputee Coalition.

Each year the organization hosts an amputee conference, which is attended by thousands of people. It also offers peer support and scholarships.

The organization’s newsletter has also helped the Francek family stay up-to-date on helpful products for amputees and technology advancements that impact prosthetics.

This summer, Nicholas attended the Coalition sponsored Paddy Rossbach Youth Camp in Clarksville, Ohio.

He spent six days swimming, practicing archery, exploring the woods, playing dodgeball and soccer and building a marshmallow blowgun. His favorite part of the camp experience was completing a ropes course. He also enjoyed meeting fellow amputees from across the country.

As explained in a press release about the camp, “All expenses and airfare are covered for the campers. The camp inspires campers to take on new challenges, be independent, test themselves and build new friendships.”

While they come from different places and backgrounds, the campers, as well as the counselors who are all amputees, had common ground in their efforts to overcome limb loss and limb difference.

“That camp ... has some great ideals and helps kids know they really can do anything,” Monel observed. “A lot of parents would have thought their children couldn’t do (the activities) and because of the camp we find out they can live normal lives and do everything.”

She went on to explain how in the face of the high costs of prosthetics, doctors appointments and co-pays, she and her husband were worried about the kinds of things they could afford for Nicholas.

“Because of the financial strain that comes with everything else, he wouldn’t have been able to do all the extras ... Amputee Coalition made it so he really doesn’t have to be limited on our finances. It’s very cool,” Monel stated as she expressed her appreciation for the opportunity Nicholas had to attend the July camp free of charge.

The Amputee Coalition is a national nonprofit with the mission “to reach out to and empower people affected by limb loss to achieve their full potential through education, support and advocacy, and to promote limb loss prevention.”

For more information, call (888) 267-5669 or visit the Amputee Coalition website at amputee-coalition.org.
 
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