It’s crazy to think I’ve been an amputee now for 16 years; it’s even crazier to realize that I’ve been battling the entire time to access better prosthetic technology.
I first realized the system needed to change when at 10 years old, months after my amputation, insurance denied my request for a waterproof leg. In high school, I started seeing incredible athletes in the media with Cheetah running blades. As an athlete myself, I wanted a leg that would help me run and sprint better. Again, I was denied.
Unfortunately, my family didn’t have the money to purchase these legs out-of-pocket, especially after all of my medical bills from chemotherapy, hospital visits, and surgery.
If you didn’t know, insurance will only cover one prosthetic device per amputation and these devices are expensive, ranging in price from $5,000 – $50,000. They are built to last 3-5 years, and require ongoing repairs and adjustments. Waterproof legs, or activity-specific prosthetic technologies – such as for running, cycling, swimming, etc. – are not covered by insurance because they are deemed “not medically necessary.”
As I entered college at the University of Michigan, I realized I would have to make do with what I had: one leg that was not waterproof, and was meant for only walking and light jogging. Wanting to become a more competitive athlete, I knew I needed to push my prosthetic’s capabilities to its limits. I started with 5Ks and 10Ks, which turned into half marathons, open water swims, triathlons, and long-distance cycling events. However, I reached a critical juncture when the right side of my body (non-amputated side) began to fail. It was working double time to compensate for my left side, creating severe asymmetries because my basic prosthetic device was not designed to take on this load.
This past year, the time came for a new leg to be built. I asked if we could try a new design for my higher activity level. Twelve months and 26 appointments later, we settled for the same technology I had used for the past 5 years. The problem? After trying three different feet, I couldn’t find just one foot that could hold up for long distance running and was also comfortable to walk in. Since insurance only covers one leg, I had to settle for one that would be best for walking.
Still, not one to give up, I applied for a grant from the Challenged Athletes Foundation to hire personal trainers. I felt that perhaps, with special attention, I could strengthen my amputated leg enough to pick up the slack.
In April 2017, I found out I got the grant. I was ecstatic.
But through that process, I also realized my story was not unique. There are other challenged athletes out there who are just like me. In fact, some amputees have it worse. That’s when I heard what was going on in New York State. They had actually passed legislation called “One Limb For Life,” which said: insurance was not required to cover more than one prosthetic limb for a patient’s ENTIRE LIFE. This was the last straw.
Yes, it has been frustrating (to say the least) being denied time and time again for a running and waterproof leg. But, to hear that other amputees would literally be made immobile for the rest of their lives made me want to get out my boxing gloves and enter the ring. With the future of our health care in complete disarray, I felt compelled to act. To use my grant and my story to make a stand and buoy up an entire community of amputees.
That’s when I decided to quit my job in July and start an awareness campaign – called “Forrest Stump” – on the barriers that limit access to prosthetic technology.
My team and I will be swimming, biking, and running over 1,500 miles down the entire west coast, from Seattle to San Diego, starting Sep 1 – Oct 22, 2017. Along the way, I will be telling my story as an amputee and cancer-survivor and raising money to bring our efforts to Washington, D.C.
We need your help to get our message out there! Please share my story with people who can help us make a change. If you feel compelled by our mission and want to help, you can also support our cause at: www.gofundme.com/forrest-stump. Thank you!