Life gained after limb loss

When JoAnne Fluke was born, her parents were told she had 72 hours to live. Forty-three years later, she continues to defy all expectations despite having just half a body. With the help of students in UT Southwestern's Master of Prosthetics-Orthotics Program, she and amputees are proving there's a lot of life to gain after limb loss.


[Narrator] Plenty of us joke that we dance with two left feet. If you're Joanne Fluke of Abilene, Texas

[Joanne] I'm like I'm back on my home turf.

[Narrator] You don't even need to be able to stand.

Can I turn you?

[Narrator] to shine on the dance floor

[Joanne] That's what the dance floor is to me. Like that's home.

[Narrator] not what you'd expect to hear from someone with half a body. Fluke has caudal regression syndrome. A rare birth defect that left her with legs webbed at the knee.

Literally when I was born, the doctors said I was one in a million and they only gave me 72 hours to live.

[Narrator] 43 years later she continues to defy all expectations as professional ballroom dancer and zumba instructor motivating others at this adaptive recreation clinic in Dallas to see the possibilities.

I think that that's actually my gift from God is my disability because if I didn't have my disability I wouldn't have the opportunity to help others who have those same challenges.

I feel like a lot of times we as able bodied people think that people who are in a wheelchair can't do all the things that we do, it really just, it depends on the person.

[Narrator] Kellen Weigand and her fellow master of prosthetics-orthotics classmates with UT Southwestern school of health professions organized this event in partnership with OPAF, the Orthotic and Prosthetic Activities Foundation.

I think we're really just helping do what should be done. Right? So people shouldn't see people with disabilities as different or less than.

[Narrator] At school these learners are becoming skilled at creating custom prostheses and fitting them on volunteer patients.

I want to be hands on with them and talk to them. Get to know them.

[Narrator] In the community, students like Cristalei Polk continue helping those without limbs overcome obstacles and fears.

[Cristalei] For us, we've all been involved in sports and to be able to give that aspect of life back to that patient population is really special for us.

I see our stories as coming together to form a bigger picture. A picture of support. A picture of love. A picture of community that can help people through some of the darkest times in their lives.

[Narrator] Darrin Ray was hit head on by a drunk driver going 30 miles over the speed limit in 2006. His legs were crushed.

I was going to school, I was going to seminary study to be a minister and everything came to a halt.

[Narrator] He credits the cheerleaders in his life for motivating him to achieve his dream of becoming an ordained minister and to once again enjoy the simple joys of getting back on a tennis court.

It feels wonderful to pick up the racket. It's like riding a bicycle. It just kind of comes back to you.

[Narrator] Proof that internal strength is far greater than any outward disability.

[Darrin] Limb loss doesn't mean life loss. Because of the help of students like this, limb loss can still mean life gained.

[Narrator] And judging by this group, they have a lot of life to live.