Cars drove up and down Fourth Street Southeast honking their horns and waving to the mannequins featured at the Limb Lab building in downtown Rochester on Thursday, April 15. But these mannequins waved back.
Dressed in white, skin-tight bodysuits with only a prosthetic showing were several Limb Lab patients, some of whom have been receiving prosthetic limbs for years. They divided and conquered, with a few staying inside the building on display from the windows, and others out in front on the sidewalks, handing out fliers to support Limb Loss Awareness Month and the Limb Lab Foundation’s fundraiser.
Twelve-year-old Landon Uthke, of Albert Lea, was one of those dressed in all white, leaving only the prosthetic on his left leg showing. It was the second year he participated as a live mannequin, and he said he’ll continue to do so to get his message out there.
“I just want to display that even though you may have a disability, you can still live an active life,” he said.
Uthke lost his left leg at 3 years old from a lawnmower accident. He said it was hard for him when he first started going to school, but his love for hockey had him determined to still get on the ice.
Limb Lab provided him with a prosthetic that allowed him to participate in sled hockey, where he mans the faceoffs as a center. A big Minnesota Wild fan, Uthke had the opportunity to even attend a Wild practice and skate alongside the players and get a few shots in between the pipes.
“It's been a journey. It's been good at times. And it's been kind of rough,” he said. “But, it's been good. (Limb Lab) is great. They helped me with a lot of stuff.”
For Limb Lab CEO Brandon Sampson, not only Thursday, but the entire month of April is about trying to erase the stigma that comes with being an amputee. He wants to show people how prosthetics can allow people to achieve goals others didn’t think were possible with a missing limb.
“Losing a limb is a really big deal. Some physicians even say it's like losing a loved one, and it's unfortunate that we can't do anything about that,” Sampson said. "But what we can do is show them what life could be like afterward and inspire them to set new goals, inspire them to be part of the creative process — inspire them to wear their prosthesis proudly."
“I think more and more that we take the stigma away from what it means and to not hide it,” he added.
Fifty-one-year-old KC Fee, of Rochester, certainly didn’t hide who he was Thursday evening.
Sporting a prosthetic on his left leg, Fee was bouncing from each side of the street, stopping anyone who walked by and handing them a flier. He then gave the person another five for good measure.
“I’m trying to help the community get involved and understand what it's all about,” he said. “If they have any questions, I can help address whatever it is that they may have in regards to individuals that are trying to survive with prosthetics or having a limb difference.”
Fee had his left leg amputated nearly six years ago due to a bone issue in his foot and ankle that left him in pain for about 35 years. Once he reached his 40s, he started struggling to walk. Instead of having multiple surgeries to fix the issue, he elected for the amputation.
After the amputation, Fee said it was the first time he was able to walk without pain in 30 years.
“It was a huge relief,” he said. “I was like, ‘I don’t have any pain. This is incredible.’ I don’t remember when I never had an issue with my foot and ankle, and right now, it’s not an issue.”
Since receiving his prosthetic leg from Limb Lab, he said he’s able to move around comfortably at home and work as a consultant for IBM. He said you’ll see anyone who walks through the Limb Lab doors with a smile on their face.
“Everybody that you see here that's participating today and anybody else that comes in here, they have that same excitement about their life because, man, there's nothing that can stop us,” Fee said. “We just were delayed in our ability to do something until we were able to get the right devices that gave us the tools and the ability to overcome whatever challenges we had to deal with.”
As of Thursday night, the Limb Lab Foundation has raised $2,830, with a goal of $10,000 by the end of the month.
To donate, visit: https://limblab.com/benefactor-overview/