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How this national volleyball player's positive mindset helped her through an elective amputation
Losing a limb, regardless of the cause, can be an extremely difficult thing for any person to face. But, while the loss is certainly life-changing, it does not mean losing the life you had before. With the help of modern prostheses, people can overcome injuries, pursue their goals, and truly embrace their new lives.
Jennifer is one of these people. In 2020, after years of severe pain due to an injury on her left leg, the volleyball player made the difficult decision to undergo an elective amputation. By working with Pentland’s Prosthetics & Orthotics Clinic — a BC clinic that has been providing personal and professional prosthetic and orthotic services to people of all ages since 1954 with three locations in Vancouver, Chilliwack, and Prince George — she was able to take her life back.
A highly athletic and energetic person (she recalls how her mother used to say that having her was “like having triplets” due to her energy levels), Jennifer became injured while working in the remoteness of Northern BC. Initially, the injury was diagnosed as a sprained ankle but, months later, it was discovered that the damage was much more significant and would require surgery.
Her first surgery in March 2010 was just the beginning of more than a decade of decreasing mobility and increasing pain complications. “I was living with an unacceptable amount of reduced function and pain,” she explains. “It was affecting my daily life, my work, and my overall mental health and well-being.”
When elective amputation was first brought up as a treatment option, Jennifer was shocked. “My initial reaction was totally against the idea,” she says. “However, over the course of another year of investigating this option, I came to realize it may help me more than I had initially considered.”
Speaking about the situation extensively with a psychologist and maintaining a “never quit,” positive mindset helped Jennifer cope with the loss.
“I have always considered myself a fairly positive person. I am able to maintain that through physical activity and making a conscious effort to enjoy the things that make my heart the happiest,” she says.
“There are so many happy things that are happening in this world around us every single day; we just need to take the time to slow down enough to truly take them in and enjoy them. This was a challenge for me but something I really embraced while I was forced to be still during my healing journey.”
For Jennifer, finding a prosthetist that could accommodate her as a highly athletic client with unique needs was important. After careful consideration, she chose Pentland’s — and the brilliant care she received from Certified Prosthetist Ricky Chu was second to none.
“[Ricky] has been paramount in helping me return to a highly active lifestyle, he has been amazing in providing the resources for me to demo different products, different feet, and make very informed decisions about what works best for my body and my life,” she says.
“I absolutely love walking into the clinic now and being able to share stories about all of the adventures that I have had with my prosthetics since the last time I was there. The entire staff is excited to see just what I have been up to since my last visit.”
Lucky for Jennifer, Ricky was no stranger to clients with unique needs. “I’ve come across quite a few super-active clients that need all kinds of prosthetic legs to achieve different activities,” he explains. “Lots of people, when they come to see me, are just expecting to get back on their feet, go to work, look after family, simple chores… But sometimes, they realize they can get back to whatever they used to do before their amputation.”
Working with Jennifer, Ricky was able to create five unique prosthetic legs for her, each serving a different purpose. This is a skill he developed throughout his career by communicating efficiently with his clients and making a conscious effort to understand their needs.
“If you have a prosthetic leg for just basic function, it will go from point A to point B. But if you have some special need, or need a special task achieved, then you need to have a special leg put together for that particular purpose,” he explains.
“I made snowboarding legs, I make ski legs, swim legs, diving legs, rock climbing legs, sprinting legs, cycling legs… This was not really part of the training when I went to prosthetic school, I had to learn by working with my clients to understand what they really need.”
Ricky’s dedication to understanding his client’s needs illustrates one of the things that makes Pentland’s stand out from the crowd — their focus on forging a relationship with each and every person that seeks their care.
Tim Yang, General Manager at Pentland’s says, “Pentland’s is not only a prosthetics and orthotics clinic, but also it is known as a harbour of our client’s minds, a way of their life, a feeling of their home, and a continuation of their soul. On behalf of all health professionals and staff at Pentland’s, we strive to ensure that our prosthetic and orthotic treatment gives our clients the confidence to achieve their life goals and full potential.”
Following her journey with Pentland’s, not only could Jennifer reclaim the active lifestyle she so thoroughly enjoyed, but she’s gotten the chance to enjoy new experiences too. She recently became one of the newest members of the Team Canada Women’s Sitting Volleyball Team. Now, she’s setting ever more ambitious goals for her future.
“I still can’t believe that my life has changed so drastically in just a period of three years. When I look back on even just the last year, I am in awe,” she says. “My goal for the future is to be on the roster for the upcoming Paralympic Games, hosted in Paris 2024. But until then, I get to be part of a truly amazing and inspiring team of women who are driven to make the Paralympics a household name.”