I believe that when facing anything in life, attitude is everything. From a young age, visiting Shriner’s Hospital in Tampa, Florida, I was exposed to kids just like me with disabilities ranging from minor amputations all the way to complex neuromuscular diseases that took over their bodies and minds. There were always constant reminders that I was one of many kids dealing with “challenges.” After seeing children with issues that ran circles around mine, I knew that I actually had it easy.
I was born with Trevor’s Disease. This affected the growth plates in my left knee and ankle, causing them to grow slower than the plates in my right leg. To make a long story short, after a seventeen year battle, the disease had left me with what was essentially a painful peg leg. I had a decision to make: amputate the leg or have multiple surgeries to give me a half functioning limb. It was a really easy decision because I knew that life as an above-the-knee amputee would hold endlessly more possibilities to stay active than the alternative.
Before my amputation, my passion in life was soccer. I went through my first year as an amputee missing that sense of passion and athletic drive that had fueled my younger years.
One day I was sitting in my prosthetist’s office reading an amputee publication when I stumbled across an ad for the Extremity Games, an event that was the equivalent of an amputee X-Games. I read through the list of events and immediately rock climbing sparked my interest. That same week, I looked up a local rock climbing facility and went climbing for the very first time. I was instantly hooked and the feeling of reaching the top is still as invigorating today as it was the very first time.
In addition to all of my athletic accomplishments, I just recently graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Prosthetics and Orthotics and will be starting my career at a facility in Orlando, FL, where I look forward to giving amputees the best care I can give and helping them reach all of their goals.
None of my goals would have been reachable without plastics. Plastics play an integral role in both my prosthesis and the holds that I climb on in the local rock climbing gym in Tampa, FL.
The first step in making a socket is fabricating a clear check socket. A sheet of plastic is heated up and vacuum formed over the plaster mold of my leg. This captures the shape of my limb. Typically, polyethylene terephthalate (PET) is used because it is clear. This allows a prosthetist to evaluate the fit of the leg and make adjustments before the final socket is made. My main prosthetic socket is made out of polypropolene. It is very durable and enables me to bike, rock climb, and do all of my other activities. There are multiple plastics used in the field of prosthetics and each of them has different characteristics that help the prosthetist achieve an optimal patient outcome.
Rock climbing is a physically and mentally demanding sport, one that often tests a climber’s strength, endurance, agility, and balance along with his or her mental control. It can be a dangerous sport and knowledge of proper climbing techniques and usage of specialized climbing equipment is crucial for the safe completion of routes.
From safety helmets, harnesses, shoes, rope, climbing holes, gloves, even the indoor climbing walls we use to practice, innovations in plastic have been crucial in the development of safe and effective rock climbing equipment.
As I mentioned before, having the right attitude makes it possible to overcome any situation. We are all handed certain cards in life. Some people get great hands while others face nearly insurmountable odds. The human spirit is an amazing thing, and more often than not those persons with the deck stacked against them come out on top. I have seen things that other people would call inspiring or incredible, but quite frankly I don’t expect anything less. Anything can be overcome with the power of the mind and thankfully, in my case, plastics make it a little easier!
About Ronnie Dickson
Ronnie Dickson, who has been an above the knee amputee for five years, has excelled in sports, specifically rock climbing. Ronnie is an active member of the Challenged Athletes Foundation and is looking forward to completing his prosthetic residency in Orlando, Florida.