July 23, 2008, The Hub, Ouray County Newspapers
Heidi is not your average teenager. She is seldom seen frowning, plays volleyball and snowboards, is a Green Bay Packers fan, wants to go into nursing, and loves hunting with her dad.
All that aside, she has a medical condition called fibular hemimelia, a congenital disorder that caused her to be born without a fibula, an ankle bone, and three toes on her right leg. As a result, her leg was amputated when she was eight months old. At eighteen months, she was fitted with her first leg by Shriners Hospital for Children in Salt Lake City, Utah. In fifth grade, she had surgery to insert staples into both her knees. In sixth grade, she had a second surgery to have the staples removed.
"It was painful," she said. Doctors are discussing a third surgery on her right leg. Even so, Heidi is physically active. "I like to prove to people I can do it," she explains. "I don't like the label handicapped."
This summer, Heidi is working at Timber Ridge gas station in Ouray three days a week, each day a lengthy 10 hours. On her days off, she says she likes to spend time with friends and sleep.
"I used to sleep until 11 on my days off," Heidi said, "But my mom got mad, so I don't do that anymore."
Heidi and her friends frequent Siam, a Thai restaurant in Ridgway, and hike. During the school year, Heidi plays volleyball and has managed the basketball team, although she says she is not interested in continuing that role next year. "I just want to get through it," she said of her senior year at Ouray High School. "I'm ready to be done." Heidi also snowboards in the winters.
All her physical activities have taken a toll on her prostheses — during the course of her life, Heidi says she has been through 23 or 24 prosthetic legs. "I'm hard on my leg," she laughs.
In the midst of work, school, and a social life, Heidi makes time for her family, especially her dad. She and her father hunt together, and it was his side of the family who drew her to the Green Bay Packers. "I cried when Favre retired," she said.
Her father has also inspired her to pursue a career in nursing. Heidi has seen her grandmother, aunt, and cousin maintain successful nursing careers, and now wants to study nursing at University of Northern Colorado or University of Utah. She plans to work as a nurse to pay for schooling to become a prosthetist. "I want to build legs," she explained.
Heidi is drawn to UNC by its nursing program, but is also looking into University of Utah because of its close proximity to Shriners Hospital, where she feels a special bond. The hospital has been providing Heidi with free legs since birth. Beyond that, one of the physical therapists hosts camps for amputees, two of which she attended this year. One of the camps is for snowboarders, the other is a river-rafting trip.
"We were doing class three or four rapids," she explained excitedly. "It was a whitewater rafting trip." Heidi hopes to volunteer at Shriners someday.
Heidi’s most recent accomplishment includes her participation in the Fourth of July water fights. She said, "I'm mad I didn't win, but there's always next year."