April 14 was a rainy night at Target Field, but the rain didn’t stop the thousands in attendance from rising to their feet to cheer as Eli Brummond, 11, flew towards home plate. He was moving fast enough that you wouldn’t necessarily notice at first. Eli’s left leg is missing from just below his knee and he wears a prosthesis.
Below, read Eli’s story from his perspective, as well as that of his parents, Rich and Corinne Brummond and their care team at Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare.
Eli Brummond: Obviously, I don’t quite remember being born, but my parents have told me the story so many times that I feel like I do. I was born with a condition called fibular hemimelia. This affects a lot of kids differently, but for me, it meant that I was born missing the fibula bone in my left leg.
Corinne Brummond: The issue with Eli’s leg was discovered during an ultrasound when I was 20 weeks pregnant, but we were unable to receive a diagnosis or discuss treatment until he was born. When he was, it was revealed that in addition to missing his fibula, Eli’s tibia was also dramatically shorter than it was supposed to be, and his left leg had a 70-degree bow. Eli was our first child, so while we were learning how to be parents, we also did as much as we could to learn about Eli’s condition.
Rich Brummond: We were referred to Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare and that’s where we met Dr. Mark Dahl. Based upon all of the research we did, we learned that some children who have Eli’s condition are capable of having their limb lengthened to compensate for the discrepancy in the length of their limbs. Unfortunately, Dr. Dahl told us that given the severity of Eli’s condition, his leg would not be viable for repair. Of course, that was hard to hear, but at least we could put together a plan. When Eli was 8 months old, the surgeons at Gillette amputated his lower leg so he could be fitted for a prosthesis.
On the Fast-Track
Gillette is a national and global leader in the diagnosis, treatment and management of pediatric Limb-Length Discrepancy conditions. Our skilled surgeons, nurse practitioners, prosthetist-orthotists, and physical and occupational therapists work in tandem with families to assemble a care plan—whether a child is born with a limb-length condition, or it develops over time.
Corinne: Eli has always been an incredibly active kid, but up to that point, he hadn’t ever been able to walk. We were very excited to see that for the first time once he got his prosthesis.
Rich: We were told that the typical turnaround time for receiving a prosthetic leg was four weeks. Frankly, I was a bit disappointed, as I was (and still am) a member of the U.S. Army and would be deploying to Iraq before Eli’s prosthesis would be completed.
Kristine Nolin, Certified Prosthetist-Orthotist (CPO): We knew about Rich’s upcoming deployment and we wanted to do everything we could to ensure he would see Eli walk before he left. We ended up fast-tracking the process for Eli’s prosthesis, and were able to get it to the Brummonds within a week.
Rich: It might seem like a small thing, but to us, it spoke volumes about the commitment that Kristine and the team at Gillette have for their patients. Not long after this, we got to see Eli take his very first steps on the parallel bars at Gillette’s Maple Grove Clinic near our home.
You can’t imagine how much that moment meant to us.
Corinne: Eli still has his follow up appointments at the Maple Grove Clinic, so every time we’re there and we see those bars, it’s hard not to reflect upon the memory of that day and the hard work of the people who made it possible.
Eli: The thing is, this wasn’t a unique event. If you spend enough time at Gillette, most of the kids and families you meet have a story about how the medical staff went out of their way to help them accomplish a personal goal, or just make them feel special.
Growing Up (And Out of Things) Through the Years
It’s probably not a foreign concept to any parent reading this, but kids grow out of things, often quickly. What may be less known, is just how much work goes into providing and maintaining viable prostheses for growing children.
Eli: I’ve had my prosthetic leg altered, like a lot. Most of this has been done with my prosthetist, Michelle Hall. She met my family at my very first appointment at Gillette.
Michelle Hall, CPO: The thing that has always struck me about Eli is just how articulate he is when it comes to describing how he is experiencing his prosthesis. I think it would surprise people to learn just how important that can be in terms of making sure he has the best quality and range of movement possible. Prosthetics is similar to physical or occupational therapy, the difference is that we provide clinical care through use of a prosthesis. There’s no “one size fits all” approach to what we do. Every orthosis or brace we design is perfectly tailored to the specific needs of our patients, and even then, those needs change over time.
We also include our patients in the process of making decisions about the device we’re making for them. Whether it’s something as simple as picking the color of a orthosis or placing the logo of their favorite sports team on their prosthesis, to something much more meaningful like picking the type of prosthetic foot that will attach to their prosthesis, we want our kids to feel empowered and involved.
Eli and Michelle Hall.
Corinne: Our relationship with Michelle over the years has been unique, and certainly not the normal relationship you’d have with a medical provider. She knows our entire family and that continuity and familiarity is such a comfort when it comes to understanding what Eli needs from his prosthesis.
A New Leg Unlocks What Was Always There in the First Place
As Eli has grown over the years, he’s had multiple prostheses and numerous alterations to them. Now that he’s taller, Michelle and his parents began discussing the addition of a prosthetic leg designed more specifically for playing sports.
Corinne: I was watching Eli at soccer practice one day and I noticed that during a drill where two children would go head-to-head to track down a ball, Eli would occasionally pull himself out of where he was standing in line and head to the back.
Eli: My mom asked me why I was doing it, and I explained that there were some kids I knew I couldn’t keep up with. My prosthesis just slowed me down too much.
Michelle: We have to wait until a child matures physically before we look at prosthetic legs designed for sports. Eli was on the cusp of when we’d usually start looking at these kinds of options, but we started looking into what we could do to find a solution.
Rich: We got connected with a local nonprofit, Wiggle Your Toes, an organization that helps amputees gain access to the support they need. They were able to cover the cost of a running prosthesis for Eli, and Gillette built and covered the cost of the socket that would integrate with the prosthesis and allow Eli to have greater mobility and run faster.
Corinne: The change in his confidence level was practically immediate. Needless to say, Eli wasn’t pulling himself out of line at soccer practice anymore.
Eli: I realized that some kids being faster wasn’t because of me or something I was doing wrong. I just needed the right leg for what I was doing.
Michelle: When it comes to athletics, Eli’s first prosthetic leg was a lot like handing someone a racquetball racquet and telling them to go play tennis. It’s workable but not optimal. The issue is the equipment, but it’s hard not to internalize this as some kind of personal failing. Most of the time, our patients—and this applies to all of the kids we see at Gillette—just need to be given the right tools to unlock the potential that was always there in the first place. Once you do, look out!
Fully or differently abled, we all need a little bit of help sometimes. Working with Eli and charting his progress over the past ten years has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my career. There’s no telling what he’ll do going forward. The sky is the limit.
This past summer, Eli is participating in track and field and recently conquered his first experience with hurdles. Eli wouldn’t want to brag, but by all accounts, he’s very, very fast.
Those with questions about the treatment for limb-length discrepancy or our Assistive Technology team at Gillette, should visit our website.
Left to Right: Jennifer Laine, MD; Amy Taylor; Rich Brummond; Eli Brummond; Michelle Hall.