From Wheelchair to Dance Floor

Hattingh   Prosthetic Care Facility of Virginia

Lacey Phipps Story


When 23-year-old-Lacey Phipps walked comfortably on her prosthetic legs for the first time in years, the feeling was almost too much for words.

“I was flabbergasted that I actually could because I hadn’t used my legs in so long,” she exclaimed. “I was freakishly excited!”

Phipps was talking shortly after she received prosthetic legs from Leesburg prosthetist, John Hattingh, CP, LPO, CPO(SA) owner of Prosthetic Care Facility of Virginia.

Phipps, who is a student at Texas Tech University, contacted Hattingh after she became frustrated with her reliance on a wheelchair and that the prostheses she had been fitted with in Texas were unusable due to discomfort and a poor fit that had her slipping and sliding out of them.

“I couldn’t walk in a straight line, so I was pretty much stuck in my wheelchair,” she said.

But after seeing Hattingh, that all changed for Phipps. Hattingh, who has more than 30 years experience in treating amputees who present difficult cases, was able to get Phipps out of her chair and walking comfortably within three days after her first visit with him.

“She was an extremely challenging case,” Hattingh said. “Initially when we started, I told her this is hard work and you better be up for it. And she was. She took it and ran with it.”

Hattingh explained the challenges in Phipps case. “Because she was in a wheelchair most of her life, she had hip flexion contracture, knee flexion contractures (reduced hip and knee range of motion), and very poor muscle strength in her lower extremities. Her previous prostheses did not compensate for her contractures and they were extremely ill fitting,” he said. “She had so much pain and discomfort, even when just standing. She also had a leg length discrepancy between left and right which also wasn’t compensated for in the building of her prosthetic legs.”

Hattingh’s facility includes a 1,200 square foot gait lab with analyzing software that allowed him to measure Phipp’s performance in foot placement and gait patterns. “When she came in, I had her walk in what she had, and the comparison between before and after is unbelievable. It really is a combination of having a positive fitting socket and equal leg lengths and dynamic prosthetic feet, which she didn’t have before,” he said.

Phipps is a congenital bilateral clubfoot and had her first surgery to correct it after her first birthday. It was unsuccessful and multiple surgeries only worsened the condition and made her feet more deformed. When she was 18, she had spent six years in a wheelchair. She was already sure that amputation would be the only way to walk again and her doctor agreed with her. Her right foot was amputated in July 2012 and her left foot in December 2012.

There are many success stories of amputees who, after elective amputation, have a prosthetist who can fit and fabricate a prosthesis for them that helps them walk, run, and undertake other activities comfortably and securely. Such was not the case for Phipps. In addition to having prosthetic legs that were much too big, they also were very heavy. “They had to weigh six or seven pounds. When you are dragging that on your leg, it is pretty impossible to get anywhere,” she said.

Phipps became a patient of Hattingh’s after another amputee tipped her off to a Facebook post of his, offering to do pro-bono work for an amputee who was not reaching their full potential of activity and was being held back by lack of funds or insurance.

“At first, I wasn’t going to respond because I thought maybe somebody else needed it more. “After falling down a lot, I thought, OK, I’m going to send them my story,” she said.

Hattingh and his wife, Michele, a registered nurse, picked up all expenses for Phipps to come to Virginia and be fit with new, functional prostheses.

“She should have had amputations when she was a child. At that time, surgeons probably could have done a Symes (partial foot) amputation which would have given her residual limbs that could be end-bearing. It’s unfortunate, but we can make it better,” Hattingh said.

Phipps saw Hattingh as a last chance to get back on her feet.

“I was a little nervous because I had contractures from being in a wheelchair and I had been to two prosthetists and both of them were not helpful. So I was worried that my legs were in such a bad state that we would not be able to get anything done. Of course, that wasn’t true because John is awesome,” she said.

After her first fitting, Phipps went back to Texas, excited to show friends her newfound mobility.

“I’m a member of the Texas Tech Irish Set Dancers. I was the only member that couldn’t get up and dance. I was kind of the mascot,” she said. Phipps was able to participate with her dance group because they developed a repertoire of singing, turns and other dance fixtures which incorporated Phipps in her electric chair.

On her return, she invited her friends in the troupe to see her try out a few tentative dance moves.  “It was a little bit stumbly, but I did it,” she said. “I left the week before in a wheelchair and the next time they saw me, I was dancing. It was pretty cool.”

Phipps will be graduating from Texas Tech in 2014 with a degree in biochemistry. She hopes to be accepted in medical school and become a pediatric surgeon because she doesn’t want any other child to suffer like she has suffered for 23 years.

Phipps will be seeing Hattingh about every three or four months for the next year.  As her activity level increases, her prosthetic legs will need adjustments to compensate for changes in her residual limb.

“I’m treating her as a brand new amputee,” Hattingh said. “It takes one year for limbs to consolidate, for muscle tone to get strong enough, to walk on uneven terrain, stairs, and ramps. We are her starting point.”

Hattingh previously was the owner, principal prosthetist, and leader in research and development for Northwest Prosthetic and Orthotic Clinic, Seattle, which was recognized as the largest P&O facility in the Pacific Northwest. He also was an adjunct lecturer at the University of Washington. He transitioned out of his practice in 2009 and traveled to his native South Africa, where he lectured and donated his expertise to treating patients that did not have medical insurance.

He is a member of the National Rehabilitation Association and American Orthotic & Prosthetic Association. He is certified by the American Board of Certification in Orthotics, Prosthetics and Pedorthics (ABC) and a Washington State licensed prosthetist.




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