My name is Ryan Wolak. I am an 11 year old with a congenital birth defect called Fibular Hemimelia. I was born missing my fibula bone in my right leg. (2 Fun Facts: 1 in 30,000 are born with this condition and the fibula bone is the most common missing long bone in the body). Needless to say, with those odds I like to take risks and, for the most part, I enjoy my physical challenge.
I had my Symes amputation when I was one and was fitted for my first prosthetic leg a couple of weeks later. After 7 years of standard legs, I started noticing that my prosthetic leg was limiting my mobility and making me slower and less competitive in school sports. I tried a new prosthetist who, now looking back, made my leg with only a little bit more mobility, but to me it felt amazing. I then received a grant from a foundation that allowed me to purchase a new running leg. I gave the money to my prosthetist and in turn he made me a leg that ultimately was made incorrectly. My parents and I learned a valuable lesson: not all prosthetists are created equally. With all my grant money gone, a running leg that was made incorrectly, and an inexperienced prosthetist that had no solution, I started to think that maybe my new amazing walking leg wasn’t so amazing after all.
When I was 10, I found a new prosthetist that was better, but he put me in a leg that had a lot of parts, and a lot of parts equaled a lot of money. My mom started looking at other options.
Fast forward to April of 2017 – the month when my quality of life was forever changed for the better. Our time at ABR in Nashville was a week filled with meeting other families, learning what all goes into making a leg, and feeling confident that this time my new leg was going to be better than ever. We also had to unlearn a lot of things that I spent my whole life avoiding. For instance, at ABR I learned I can actually get my leg wet. This good news opened up a whole new world for me. I asked Aaron, “does this mean I can go swimming with my leg on or go to a water park and not hop around all day on one leg, and can I try water skiing? Aaron’s response “I am tired of kids and parents asking what they can’t do. Ryan, you can do whatever you want!”
When I put on my new ABR walking leg for the first time I said, “So this is what a normal person feels like when they walk.” I have never had such mobility in a walking leg. If I thought that was amazing, the running leg went beyond my wildest expectations. I could tell that being a slow, bulky runner was a thing of the past.
As for right now, I am getting used to my new freedom of walking and running. I no longer have pain after wearing my leg for too long. I have been pain-free and have been more active than ever. ABR has changed my life and my family’s life. I am now on a track team and can’t wait to continue to play my other sports with other able-bodied athletes.