The goal of the body positive movement is to promote self-acceptance and love in people with all kinds of bodies, and amputees are no exception.
According to Stanford University, there are an estimated 10 million amputees worldwide.
Every amputation performed comes with a unique story. With each story comes a miraculous human being. There is room for all 10 million in our body positive community.
Here are just a few we can get to know and welcome.
Andrew Draghi II, PhD, MS
In 1985, at the age of 15, Andrew developed Osteosarcoma, also known as Osteogenic Sarcoma.
“Osteosarcoma is the most common type of cancer that develops in the bone,” according to Cancer.org. “Most osteosarcomas occur in children and young adults. Teens are the most commonly affected age group, but Osteosarcoma can occur at any age.”
After going through limb salvaging surgery in which a donor bone replaced his infected bone, and a year of chemotherapy, Andrew developed an infection.
One broken transplant and one surgery later, at 18-years-old, he made the decision to have his left leg amputated.
“It was a great decision to have my leg amputated. I’ve never looked back,” Andrew says. “That being said, it was not easy to deal with the physical impairment and the ‘stigma’ of having one leg.”
At 18-years-old, Andrew entered into the rest of his life with his head up and a positive attitude. After going through such a life changing procedure, many other adolescent and life problems became non-issues in comparison.
“As the world falls apart around me, I’ll have a smile on my face and will always keep an optimistic view of what tomorrow will bring,” he says.
Today, more than 30 years after being diagnosed with Osteosarcoma and starting the journey that would end up changing his body and life forever, Andrew lives in Glastonbury, CT with his three kids. He has what he describes as “an awesome job,” and hits the gym four days a week.
“I’m more active, have a great social life, and surpass most other ‘normal people’ in getting the most out of every day! Who wants to be ‘normal’ anyway? I’m Andy Draghi and it’s the best!”
“When I was 10-years-old, I was diagnosed with cancer,” Kayla says. “I had a tumor in my left ankle.”
After five unsuccessful rounds of chemotherapy, Kayla’s doctors brought up the idea of amputation. As a pre-teen, Kayla didn’t even know removing a limb was ever even an option. Even still, five months later, her left leg was removed below the knee and she’s had a prosthetic ever since.
Since the amputation happened at such a young age, Kayla had more time than others to adapt to her new body. Physically, it didn’t take long for her to lose the limp when she walked and within one year, she was playing every sport she had been playing pre-amputation.
That being said, while many physical things came easy for her, mentally, it wasn’t such a smooth transition.
Realizing that she couldn’t wear whatever shoes she felt like wearing, she couldn’t spontaneously jump in the pool, stand on her tippy toes, or sit ‘criss-cross-apple-sauce’ took a toll on Kayla.
“Feeling different at such a young age made me think that it was a negative thing,” she admits.
It wasn’t until she approached her sophomore year of high school in her hometown of Chicago, IL that Kayla’s mindset changed.
“I learned that I’m seen as someone who’s strong and can do anything I set my mind to,” Kayla says.
“I am a bi-lateral, below knee amputee,” Jim describes. “I also am missing my left index finger and have extensive scarring on my arms and thighs.”
After contracting Meningococcal Septicaemia – or Bacterial Meningitis – in 2007, Jim spent more than two years in a hospital recovering from its effects.
In 2008, his legs were amputated.
Jim’s new physical limitations and perception of himself were difficult to come to terms with. Such drastic and sudden changes to his body forced him into a deep depression while he was in the hospital. After that depression caused him to stop eating, he ended up back in intensive care.
“I’m a big believer that everyone has to hit their own rock bottom before they can start to pick themselves back up,” Jim said.
Picking himself up is exactly what he did. Jim just recently made the Paralympics ‘ones to watch’ list for the 2017 games as a wheelchair rugby athlete from the United Kingdom.
Gone are the days where he would cover up his scars with long sleeved shirts and wear prosthetic legs while in his wheelchair so that people wouldn’t stare.
“I’ve come to terms with these issues and have very little issue with the appearance of my body now,” Jim explains. “I still have issues with my condition, but I know that life is for living.”
A congenital amputation is when a child is born without part of or an entire limb(s). According to Dynamic Bracing Solutions, it is the least common reason for amputation.
For this reason, and many more, 3-year-old Luke Medina is truly a rarity.
“Luke was born with fibular hemimelia,” Luke’s mother Karina Marquez explains. “When he was born, it was discovered that his left foot was amputated while in the womb. His right foot was present but had a bone malformation.”
A year after his birth, Luke’s doctors came to the conclusion that his right foot would require amputation as well.
At just 1-year-old, Luke became a bilateral below-knee amputee.
“Luke is my only child,” Karina says. “I always imagined my life with Luke being like any other mother and son. Just being a parent was my biggest worry… I had no idea that a bigger challenge was in the books for me.”
Physical aspects like running and jumping sometimes cause Luke to struggle and his prosthetics cause aches and pains when worn all day. Surprisingly, though, according to his mother, he can run and climb almost anything with amazing speed when not wearing his prosthetics, impressing everyone that witnesses it.
Regardless of the trials and tribulations, Luke can’t hide his excitement when getting new shoes to wear on his prosthetics. He’s become an inspiration to those around him and his mother’s social media followers.
In their hometown of El Paso, TX, Karina and Luke promote their lifestyle on her Instagram account, finding and learning from other families similar to them as well as receiving positive feedback, encouragement, and support.
Welcome to BoPo
Each of the four stories we’ve heard here contain truly magnificent characters. Surprisingly, none of them were familiar with the body positive movement until very recently.
“My hopes are that I can help people who feel they’re ‘different,’ understand that most barriers and insecurities are in one’s head,” Andy says. “Breaking through them will open their lives up in amazing ways.”
Until joining Instagram, Jim had never even heard of the BoPo movement. With that social media platform, he was able to come to terms with a lot of his own body issues.
“I think people should always be happy in their own skin,” Jim says. “At the same time, I don’t think people should feel vilified if they want to better themselves either. To each their own.”
“My hopes for the body positive movement is for people to be inspired with every unique story from people around the world,” Luke’s mother Karina expresses. “All people are beautiful in their own ways and we need to learn to accept people for who they are. No one should ever feel ashamed of being who they are because there will never be another like them. Embracing ourselves is key.”
“The body positive movement is something I’m actually not familiar about, but excited to be part of,” Kayla expresses. “I hope that in the future, more and more amputees will have roles in movies, commercials, books, and TV shows. I believe that more people (especially children) should be more informed about the differences in the world.”
“God simply wasn’t done with his masterpieces yet when it comes to us amputees,” she says. “He just needed a little more time to be creative with his art.”
What We Can Learn
Perhaps Kayla’s parting message said it best. It’s true, not just for the amputees of the world, but for everyone that feels they’re on a journey in life.
Beautiful things take time, and we must look at the challenges we face as opportunities to learn and grow.
Like Andrew Draghi II, we can use our situation to put life in perspective. We can stay motivated enough to start a family and find success. We can take pride in our careers and consistently strive for greatness.
Like Jim Roberts, we can make the most of our situations and perhaps become an Olympic athlete. We can ignore the people that stare. Instead, we can take pride in educating children whose parents are kind enough to ask us to. Gaining and spreading knowledge is, after all, what’s most important in life.
Taking after Kayla Reardon, we can get back to any and everything we did before those life changing moments. We can put our uniform back on, or get back up on that horse, and put the emphasis on the “CAN” in cancer.
Lastly, just like Luke Medina and his mother Karina Marquez, we can vow to support and guide each other. We can show our children, and everyone else, that we are special in every way and we all have the power to impact the lives of many.
As you can see, being an amputee isn’t an easy journey.
Like many of our own stories, each one is unique and full of struggle, opportunity, inspiration, and most importantly, love.
We must listen to every story with open ears and an open heart because every story is worthy. There is room for anyone and everyone in a community that embraces respect and tolerance for all.
May those in the amputee community feel welcome here in the body positive community now and always.
May our current BoPo community members embrace diversity, and inclusivity, as well as continue to promote acceptance and love for everybody and EVERY BODY.