Amputations can’t slow down this CHAMP

Watch for Cole Martin, 9, of Zurich in his second War Amps TV PSA

Cole Martin of Zurich is a fun-loving nine-year-old who loves to play soccer and swim. He’s also a double amputee appearing in his second PSA for the War Amps Child Amputee program. Cole was born with only three toes and missing parts of his legs, and doctors amputated his legs above the ankle at six months. The Grand Bend Strip sat down with him and his parents Dwayne and Claudia Martin to discuss their journey.

Interview and photo by Casey Lessard
Screen capture courtesy War Amps

Dwayne: We knew from an early ultrasound that there was something not right with his legs. That created confusion among the medical staff because they had never come across this kind of situation before. They realized that there was something wrong with the legs, so they checked other limbs. They dug further and looked at internal organs. They were pretty sure nothing else was wrong but that there would be something wrong developmentally. They couldn’t even guarantee that he was going to be a highly functioning child. Just before he was born, Claudia was referred to an orthopedic surgeon, who finally gave this condition a name: fibular hemimelia. It means the absence of part or the whole limb. If he could adapt to walking with prosthetic legs, he should be otherwise a healthy child. When he was born, they had a team ready in case there were other complications.
Claudia: We were pretty confident that he was going to be fine otherwise. It was pretty devastating to hear that your child’s legs aren’t developing properly, but we believe there was a reason for him and we would do whatever we needed to do. He walks and jumps and plays. Cole hasn’t read the manual that he’s not supposed to be able to do what he does, and we’re not going to stop him. It’s a little different. We have to find legs in the mornings sometimes, and remember where we put them the night before.
The biggest thing at the beginning was telling people that he was fine: “don’t feel sorry for him”. The more we baby him, the more disabled we allow him to become. He could become disabled if we allowed him to be.
The biggest struggle was at school. When he’s climbing the ladder for the slide, he can’t feel when another child’s fingers are under his foot. We went into his class and explained this to the other kids.
Dwayne: The biggest apprehension I had was peer acceptance. We’ve found that because all the kids he goes to school with have grown up with him, they don’t see him as different. In fact, there are kids that say they wish they could take their legs off. They think it’s cool. For us, it’s always been about educating people what it’s like having an amputation and prosthetic legs. Yes, you do things a little differently, but you can do basically anything that everyone else can do. You just have to adapt a little bit. He rides a normal bike; he needs to start and stop a little differently, but he finds his own way. With skating, he can’t feel the slipperiness of the ice, so he’s had to experiment on his own.

War Amps’ help is crucial
Claudia: He has a carbon-fibre foot that is responsive, so he gets lift off the toe. Right now they’re working on swim legs for him with an adjustable ankle so he can put flippers on. He’s also getting a pair of legs without the additional height so he won’t have the additional weight when he’s running. By that time, he’ll have three pairs of legs. War Amps covers everything. We just got the bill for the swim legs, and it was almost $25,000 for one pair of legs. Regular legs are slightly less than that. War Amps is covering everything. Without their help, he wouldn’t have them.
Dwayne: We would be very limited in what we could provide him. War Amps does an amazing job of giving kids specialized gear, whether it’s arms and hands or legs and special feet. They cover everything over and above what insurance does.
Claudia: Dwayne’s plan covers 80 per cent for one pair every two years. We also get help from ADP (Ontario’s Assistive Devices Program). But they don’t cover recreational legs. War Amps allows kids to be kids, to live a normal life. Because they’re normal kids.

Cole’s biggest challenges
Claudia: The biggest problem is stump sores. The splits, the blisters, the bleeding that happens. You deal with it. He doesn’t know any different. He was six months when he was amputated. This has always been and always will be.
(When he was learning to walk,) we didn’t do anything differently. When he was learning to crawl, we had to put pads on his legs so he could grip the floor, otherwise his plastic legs kept sliding away on him. It was a little more emotional the day he walked across the kitchen because this was a child that doctors said wasn’t supposed to live, and if he lived, he would never walk. The day any child walks is a huge day, but the fact that he did it at 18 months on the day, that was emotional.
Dwayne: We’ve always taken the viewpoint that if we don’t tell him he can’t do it, he won’t think he can’t, and he’ll try it. If he tries and decides it’s too difficult for him, he can pursue it or not. For the most part, he has always exceeded what doctors say he technically should be able to do. As he’s grown, he learns his limits and he has a lot fewer limits than we believed there would be.

Dwayne: We all have challenges. His just happens to be more visible. Because of certain limitations, he can’t become a firefighter, but otherwise, there are no limits to what he can do.