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In search of others like her

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Woman wants to host gatherings to let amputees know they’re not alone

By Stephanie DeCamp

Evergreen resident Judy Berna travels, skis, works at the Wulf and Buchanan rec centers, and has written a book. She is also missing a foot — and looking for others who might be missing limbs, too.

Berna was born with a mild form of spina bifida, caused when some vertebrae don’t fully form and leave the spinal cord vulnerable to damage. A series of operations left Berna’s spinal cord unable to send signals to her left foot, which became deformed over time.

As a child, she would dream of having a foot transplant.

“I just kept thinking, ‘Why can't we just cut it off and start over?’ ” Berna said. “That led to the realization in my adult years that 'starting over' might mean a good prosthetic foot, not necessarily a flesh-and-bone transplant.”

In 2001 she began to research prosthetics, but doctors resisted the idea, with most believing that amputation should be a last resort.

“No one had heard of 'elective amputation' back then,” she said, “so I hit a lot of brick walls.”

“Elective surgery isn’t common,” agreed Whitney Harris, an orthotic-prosthetic resident at Bulow Orthotic and Prosthetic Solutions, where Berna received her prosthesis. “Most lose a limb to infections, cancer … or trauma, so to elect to lose a limb is different. You haven’t had to go through the psychological stuff that comes with suddenly losing a limb, where people go through the five stages of grief when it happens. You get to accept it before it ever happens.”

Harris said relatively few patients elect to have an amputation. But in January 2004, Berna made that choice.

And while having a prosthetic leg presents some challenges, Berna’s life has changed dramatically for the better. She even learned to ski on her new leg’s one-year anniversary.

“In my old life,” she said, “I'd drag around that withered leg strapped to a heavy brace. It was a huge chore just to go shopping for my family. I had limited steps in each day, and they got used up before I was done being the mom and wife I wanted to be. After my surgery, I got a foot with energy return, and for the first time in my life I had my left side participating in gait. “It was amazing; I loved my new leg from the very first day. I almost had it taken away from me by my (doctor), because he said I wasn’t 'breaking it in slowly.' But I was ready to live life.”

Berna is very involved in the disabled community online, she said, and has been since she started considering amputation. She’d like to bring the solidarity she found in cyberspace to the mountain area.

“(Those online) were a huge help to me when I was doing my research,” she said, “and I've been online since my surgery, offering help and encouragement. … Other amputees like knowing someone else out there understands when they say something like, ‘My leg doesn’t fit right today.’ ”

Those closest to her agree.

“We have a few disabled guests, and I’ve noticed they can relate very well to Judy, and she to them, being in a similar condition,” said Denise Schupp, facility specialist at the Wulf Rec Center, and Berna’s boss. “She’s a very positive, enthusiastic and high-energy person.”

Berna said she’d like to start channeling that energy into finding other Evergreen residents like her, and perhaps schedule a gathering where they could share ideas and encouragement.

“I’ve accidentally run into a few in the two years that I've lived here,” she said, “and have always thought I'd love to host a get-together for all the amputees in the area. I know many of them feel like they are the only ones in our community, but I think my journey may help them see that they are not alone.”

Contact Stephanie DeCamp at Stephanie@evergreenco.com or 303-350-1043. Check CanyonCourier.com for updates and breaking news.

For more information …

If you would like to reach out to Judy Berna, e-mail her at justonefoot@gmail.com. Berna has written a book about her experiences, "Just One Foot: How Amputation Cured My Disability" and also has a website that includes her pictures, history and blog at http://justonefoot.blogspot.com/.