More than just limbs given at annual prosthetic clinic

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Donna Thornburg has one goal.

“I want to run more than anything in my life,” Donna Thornburg said as she completed an agility drill.

She was among more than a dozen people at Stermole Track & Field Complex on Sunday working on regaining functional movement during the seventh annual Colorado Adaptive Mobility Clinic. They moved laterally, crossing one foot in front of the other. They pushed
their knees up high as they moved forward. They also skipped.

“Skipping just a minute ago was the closest I’ve come to running and I can’t tell you how that felt — it almost made me cry,” Thornburg said.

Thornburg who lives in Westminster, was parked at a car wash repositioning some tables that had slid in the back while driving before having her vehicle cleaned when another car slammed into hers — pinning her between them. Both knees were crushed, her left against
the bumper and her right against the tow hitch.

That was 14 years ago. Two years ago, after about 20 surgeries including five knee replacements, she told doctors to take the leg off. Then she got cancer.

This past Sunday, May 5, was part of her first-time physical therapy.

“So now, I’m finally over the whole cancer thing ... now I want to learn to run,” Thornburg said.

She wasn’t alone.

“I was very active,” Nate Holzer of Henderson said. “Active snowboarder, runner, jogger, martial arts.

About two and a half years ago he got a blood clot behind his knee. Then another. Then another. Each time with more complications.

“That totally knocked me down for quite some time,” Holzer said.

His leg was removed last October.

Sunday’s clinic was hosted by Hanger Clinic and UC Health, where Hanger Clinic collaborates with doctors and nurses.

Jill Shragal, who works with amputees at the Anschutz campus, said it’s a multidisciplinary one-stop shop.

“It allows the patient to be seen in a team environment instead of going to this doctor, then going to that doctor and different appointments at different times,” said Brad Intrus, prosthetist for Hanger.

Shragal added, “Lots of ideas bouncing off and problem solving.”

She said they will see five to seven patients per week.

Common causes for amputation are traumatic event, vascular disease, cancer and diabetes, according to Shragal.

Traci Miller of Littleton had a rare vascular disorder that began affecting her at age 10. In 1986, after two dozen surgeries, she had her leg amputated at the age of 21. Saying she had been active in the past tense would be inaccurate. Miller runs, skis and wakesurfs among other athletic activities. She’s excited about her waterproof prosthetic to use it while jet skiing and windsurfing. She said the clinic is helpful.

“They teach the skills that really are normal because it’s not normal running skills, so learning how to bound off the thigh and what your other leg has to do to follow through,” Miller said.

Throughout the clinic, physical therapists helped give techniques while participants shared tips with each other.

At the end of the day, Thornburg and Holzer got fitted with running blades -- a prosthetic much more conducive to running than a traditional foot.

“I like the spring in my step,” Holzer said after his first run on the blade. “That was the first time I ran in two years. That felt excellent. I struggled, but it still felt excellent.”

Thornburg was also excited to get a feel for the blade and hopes it’s move in the right direction. She recalled teaching her dogs to pull wagons with her children in them -- before jogging strollers were commonplace. Memories of running are vivid.

“I dream about it,” Thornburg said. “I can run in my dreams.”

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