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SD student collects prosthetics, orthotics for donation

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SCOTLAND, S.D. (AP) — Katie Winckler had her leg chopped off for fun last year, just to scare some enthusiastic haunted-house goers.

"I like to keep a lot of humor in my life," she said with a smile.

Winckler, a Scotland High School student, was born with a left leg deficiency. The leg was shorter than her right, but doctors are still unsure what caused the issue. One possible cause is a condition in which the femur bone does not develop properly, she said.

As she began growing, her foot grew, but her leg did not. So, her parents and doctors decided to amputate her left foot when she was 11 months old.

To be able to walk, Winckler was then fitted for a prosthetic leg.

Now, Winckler is using her experience to conduct her required senior project for graduation.

She chose to create a region-wide prosthetic and orthotic collection, which she plans to donate to Limbs for Life, an organization that helps people with amputated limbs.

It helps people receive orthotics — items like braces or boots — and prosthetics, or replacement body parts, like legs and arms.

"From the moment I knew I had to do a senior project, I knew I wanted to do something with prosthetics," Winckler said. "It's something I have that's special about me."

Her mother, Dorene, originally suggested the collection idea during a fishing trip. Her teacher adviser, Diana Mach, and mentor, Ryan Kocer, have helped her throughout her planning process.

Winckler has already gathered a few orthotics and about $300 in donations for her cause, but has yet to have any donations of prosthetics, beyond two of her own limbs.

The orthotics and prosthetics she receives will be sent to Limbs for Life, which will redistribute the orthotics for free. But the organization will take apart the prosthetics and salvage usable parts to create new prosthetics and also distribute the limbs to those who can't afford replacements.

"The money donated will go to the Shriners Hospital in St. Paul (Minnesota) to the prosthetics and orthotics department," Winckler said, adding the hospital has helped her throughout her life.

A local Shriner, Dick Behl, sponsored Winckler when she was an infant to attend Shriners Hospital.

"It is quite a blessing to be there," Winckler said.

All donations for her project must be made by March 1. Winckler will send the orthotics and prosthetics she receives to Limbs for Life.

In kindergarten, Winckler remembers bringing her prosthetic leg for show and tell. Her dad, Craig, helped her explain why she had a fake leg and how it helped her.

"He plopped me up on the counter and talked about my stump, and the prosthetic," Winckler said. "A boy in my class said, 'Oh my God. I want to go chop off my leg now so I can be like Katie.' "

In fifth grade, she had surgery on her right leg, which destroyed the growth plate on her femur to compensate for knee length. The surgery made it easier for Winckler to wear her prosthetic.

Last year, Winckler wanted to help with the annual haunted house for Halloween in Scotland.

"I had this great idea of being in the butcher station," she said with a laugh. "And my dad got the honors of chopping off my leg in front of people. It's great being on the laughing end of things."

The two were put in a room with a red light, so she chose not to use fake blood for the butcher's station. Instead, she hid a bucket of warm water with a sponge, and every time a group walked by, after her leg was severed, she sprayed the group with warm water to mock a blood splatter. She said even the most macho guys who attended became faint near the butcher station.

"I've always kept in good spirits and good humor," she said. "It's nothing I can change, so why fight it? I just laugh about it, so that's all right with me."

She recently posed for photos in front of Scotland High School, holding one of her prosthetic legs.

"What do you want me to do?" she asked the photographer. "I've never held my own leg before."

Although humor has kept her in high spirits, Winckler admits she has had moments of self-pity, wishing she had two feet. But it never lasted long or happened very often, she said.

Instead, she focused on doing everything she wanted to do, and her prosthetics allowed her to do nearly everything.

She participated in volleyball, softball, golf and show choir. She currently has two prosthetic legs — one geared toward athletics and one she calls a cosmetic leg.

The sport-oriented leg is lighter, has a carbon fiber foot and is more flexible and practical, she said. The cosmetic leg allows her to adjust the foot so she can wear high heels and looks more real. She particularly wears it for show choir so the choir is the focus of the show, not her leg.

As she finishes senior project, Winckler is also deciding which college to attend. She's been accepted to Augustana College in Sioux Falls, Mount Marty College in Yankton, and Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa. She plans to go into secondary education for an English major, and minor in biology.

Her future plans also include moving on from the care she's received at the Twin Cities Shriners Hospital for Children in Minneapolis. The Shriners have provided totally free care and prosthetics for Winckler since the beginning, and can do so until she is 21.

But she has already visited an outreach clinic in Sioux Falls that can help her with any future issues she may have. Since she has stopped growing, she will not likely need as many replacements.

For her, life with a prosthetic leg has been the norm. She runs, jumps, plays and dresses — for the most part — like every other kid.

"I don't have a comparison to look at, so I'm blessed I don't know what it's like to have two feet," she said.


Information from: The Daily Republic,

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