Cousin Doesn’t Give Up; Finds Help for Amputee

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By Jodi Mills

Whatever your connection with the field of O&P, you are bound to come across many people that inspire you and touch your heart. Recently such a person and her family crossed our path here at The O&P EDGE. Her story isnt necessarily out of the ordinary, but it helps to serve as a reminder to us all that a few caring people can make a real difference in someone's life. Take a moment to meet Elisa Casas, a lively, energetic young woman who also happens to be an amputee. Its a story about people helping someone in need and everyone coming out a winner!

Barr Foundation recipient Elisa Casa shows off new prosthesis and gait to Keith Ryan Sardo at Beverly Hills Prosthetics Orthotics.
Barr Foundation recipient Elisa Casa shows off new prosthesis and gait to Keith Ryan Sardo at Beverly Hills Prosthetics Orthotics.

Elisa Casas has congenital limb loss: she was born with proximal femoral focal deficiency (PFFD). As a child she underwent amputation, becoming a right above-knee amputee. Between the ages 14-21, Elisa received medical assistance from Shriners Hospital for Children, including seven surgeries. Elisa, who was born in Mexico and lives in the United States, feels the assistance Shriners gave her during those years was a blessing. Shriners continued to sponsor her until she reached 21.

Unable to apply for medical aid since her immigration status is pending visa approval, she seemed to be out of options as she sought the proper treatment she needed. At age 27, she found herself in dire need of a new prosthesis and wasnt sure where to turn. The prosthesis she was wearing in late 2003 had been made outside of Shriners and was no longer working well for her. It would seem she had reached a dead end as she faced the possibility of never being able to afford a new prosthesis.

Fortunately, Elisa has a cousin that wanted to search out help for her. Luis Valenzuela went on a mission to find relief for his cousin. In January 2004, Luis began contacting various organizationsin hopes of finding assistance for his cousin. The O&P EDGE received an e-mail asking if we could refer him to anyone that would be willing to take her case.

Help Is Found

Tony Barr, president of the Barr Foundation, was contacted. The Barr Foundation is a nonprofit organization which provides prosthetic limbs for amputees who cannot otherwise afford them. After financial need is established, the Barr Foundation Amputee Assistance Fund will pay for materials and fitting of a new prosthesis. Valenzuela and Barr began communicating about Elisas needs, and the ball was rolling.

Each amputee is obliged to have a prosthetist sponsor him or her as part of the eligibility requirements set forth by the foundation. Valenzuela attempted to help his cousin locate a prosthetist who would be willing to help. Providentially, Keith Vinnecour, CPO, of Beverly Hills Prosthetics Orthotics Inc., Los Angeles, California, was willing to get involved. March 1, 2004, would be his first encounter with Elisa. He found that she was wearing a prosthesis that did not fit well and had very low-end components. The socket was loose at the top, and the bottom was too tight to add the socks. Due to the ill-fitting prosthesis, Elisa was suffering from back pain and blisters.

In July, Elisa was successfully fitted with a prosthesis, thanks to Vinnecour as sponsoring prosthetist and the Barr Foundations generous provision of the components needed. Another company willing to donate its product was Thermal Techniques of Modesto, California. Its component, the Heelraiser® prosthetic foot, is one that Elisa is especially thrilled to have. "I am able to wear two-inch heels now as well as flat shoes - something I had not been able to do in the past!" exclaims Elisa. The Heelraiser is patient-friendly: the push of a button hydraulically changes the height without changing the alignment. A relative newcomer on the market, it is getting enthusiastic reviews from both prosthetists and users.

Elisa also praised Vinnecour for his kindness and expertise in fitting her with the right prosthesis. "The [prosthetist] was always so nice and treated me well. It only took a few weeks, which surprised me, as I didnt expect him to be able to finish so quickly." Barr also commends Vinnecour for his tireless efforts. "Keith Vinnecour is a 35-year veteran in the O&P provider field. He and his facility have been longtime supporters of the Barr Foundation." Providing prosthetic rehabilitation to approximately 150-200 amputees annually who otherwise would have no financial resources would not happen without the support of prosthetists like Vinnecour and hundreds of other practitioners like him, Barr says.

Elisa is very happy with her new leg. Her pleasure is apparent when she is discussing her experience and the outcome. No more back pain or blisters. She is able to keep up with the five-year-old and two-and-a-half-year-old children that she cares for daily.

Elisa Looks to Bright Future

As she anxiously waits to have her visa approval finalized, she is making plans for her future. "The medical field is something I love. My plan is to go back to school and become a registered nurse. I would also like to volunteer my time to help others with needs like mine, possibly for an organization like the Barr Foundation. It would be one way to thank them for their help."

Thanks go to her cousin as well, who was tenacious in looking for help for Elisa. Indeed, a few caring people can make a big difference in someones life. Elisa Casas is living proof, and she thanks everyone from the heart.

What can be done to help those that cannot afford to replace their prostheses and do not have insurance or other financial aid? Take the time to make a monetary donation to the Barr Foundation and other nonprofit organizations that assist amputees in need. Every donation, no matter how small or large, will help someone in need.

The mailing address of the Barr Foundation is: c/o Storage USA; 3090 NW 2nd Avenue, Suite #693, Boca Raton, FL 33431; phone: 561.394.6514; e-mail: barr@oandp.com

Editors note: Although The O&P EDGE does not contact organizations providing aid directly on behalf of persons needing assistance, due to the possible volume of requests, we are happy to provide available contact information upon request.