Dancing on Prosthetic Limbs

3 min read

By Jennifer Albers-Smith

I’m not sure how many of you watch Dancing with the Stars, but I’m hooked this season. There are some pretty incredible people participating. I tuned in in the beginning to watch Olympic gold medalist ice dancers Charlie White and Meryl Davis (and THEY ARE FANTASTIC), but now I’m addicted to watching Amy Purdy, the Paralympic snowboarder, who has two prosthetic legs—talk about a real-life hero and an inspiration.  And, boy, can she dance! I would be impressed even if she didn’t have two prosthetic legs, but the fact that she does and still dances so gracefully and skillfully brings me to tears on a weekly basis.

What she has accomplished has really made me want to learn more about prosthetics and advances in building prosthetics that allow people to move how she has been able to move on the dance floor.

I dove into GVRL and did a search on “prosthetics.” As I got started, the Gale Encyclopedia of Nursing and Allied Health helped shed some necessary light on the history of prosthetics. It turns out that prosthetics have been used since ancient times. Even three thousand year old mummies with wooden toes and feet have been uncovered.

Fast forward to the sixteenth century and now functional iron hands that moved with a set of springs and catches (Swain and Frey 2782) had been created.

The year 2012 brought advancements with computer-aided design and computer-aided manufacturing (CAM), allowing a patient’s measurements to be scanned into the computer so the prosthetics can be completely customized to that person’s needs.

My Dancing with the Stars hero, Amy, lost both of her legs below the knee due to bacterial meningitis. She was just 19 years old at the time. To think that something like meningitis could result in an entire change in the way you live your life is appalling. Sadly, there are many other ways in which one can lose an appendage. Diabetes coupled with peripheral vascular remains the leading cause of amputation in the U.S., according to Applied Science, which is published by Salem Press (1536).

I can only imagine what Amy’s had to overcome to get where she is both as a world-class snowboarder and an amazing dancer. And she’s nowhere near alone.  Each year, over 150,000 amputations are performed in the U.S., and an estimated 1.7 million Americans have prosthetic limbs. That means many brave, persistent, and strong men and women face the same—or similar—challenges each and every day.

In an episode a couple weeks ago – for her contemporary dance – Amy wore prosthetic feet that had her on her tippy toes! Every week she has amazed and inspired me, and I can’t wait to see what she does every Monday night.

I have great respect for anyone who fights hard to make sure their would-be disabilities do not define or limit them. Go, Amy!



photoAbout the Author

Jennifer loves her children, dogs, and Jane Austen. She has a B.A. in English and Sociology from the University of Michigan, and spends her waking hours as a marketing director and feeding her family.


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